By Roger Moore
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
Kids, this is not your parents’ Endless Love.
Scott Spencer’s novel of a romantic obsession so strong that it flirts with mental illness has had its sharp edges rubbed off, its dramatic weight lifted and its focus shifted in this adaptation from the director of Country Strong.
There’s nothing dangerous about this teen love on steroids. There’s no showcase sex scene, the selling point of the infamous 1981 Brooke Shields/Franco Zeffirelli adaptation. The kids here come off as perfectly reasonable; the adults are the problem — but even their efforts to separate the lovebirds are watered down.
Still, even without that tragic Romeo and Juliet edge or the hit theme song by Lionel Richie and Diana Ross, it does have a stellar cast who keep things real even if the lighter touches turn this into a far more conventional teen romance.
Alex Pettyfer is David, the car mechanic’s son who falls — hard — for the gorgeous Jade, played by the supermodel-skinny Carrie co-star Gabriella Wilde.
They graduate from high school together, never having spoken. But David, he’s seen “the possibility of us.” And Jade, shut off from her peers, smothered by a family still mourning a brother who died two years before, is simply swept off her feet.
He rescues her ill-planned graduation party, and when he gets off on the wrong foot with her stern surgeon dad (Bruce Greenwood, terrific), mechanic boy David finds a way to make it up to the doctor, fixing up the family’s ancient MGB.
Jade’s mom (Joely Richardson) is touched. Jade’s brother (Rhys Wakefield of The Purge) is charmed.
Only Dr. Hugh (Greenwood) is seeing red. He’s got his daughter’s future planned, and those plans start with a summer internship. The boy is interfering.
The way this story is supposed to work is that Dad’s threats and efforts to keep the kids apart works on David’s fragile, lovesick mind and makes him desperate. Pettyfer (Magic Mike) doesn’t suggest that, as this David is written as all lovesick and moon-eyed. He’s harmless. Jade is in love for the first time, but Wilde doesn’t get across the breathless yearning that raises the stakes of their affair when Daddy pulls more than a few tricks to try and split them up.
Robert Patrick is winning as David’s gruff but indulgent dad, and Dayo Okeniyi scores as David’s goofy pal Mace.
Director/co-writer Shana Feste concocts what could have been an engaging if stunningly predictable Endless Love, from the pop music montage courtship sequences to Dad’s driving the boy out on a boat to set him straight about what’s not going to happen with his daughter.
Greenwood and Richardson make a fine, discordant couple and the young leads have a certain chemistry. If only Feste had realized she’d stripped almost all the conflict out of the story, that you can’t flip motivations and turn everybody into “reasonable” people and have anything like an interesting drama left over.
Even the Brooke Shields version got that right.