Docorating the cutting room floor

By R. Paul Dyck

Those "fortunate" enough to have seen the advertisements for the film Here on Earth will notice the following caption attached to the title: "Featuring ‘Where You Are’ by Jessica Simpson." The caption almost makes Here on Earth sound like a good movie.

Too often teen flicks like this only serve as vehicles for hot soundtracks and pin-up posters, where good stories and strong performances come second to pop culture and sex appeal. Rare films such as 1999’s Election prove a lot can be done with the high school film genre, but these are indeed exceptions to the rule.

Here on Earth is not one of these exceptions. Rather than adding anything new to an already tired film genre, first-time director Mark Piznarki uses every cliché imaginable to draw smiles and tears out of his audience, though it is debatable this film will get either.

Here on Earth tells the story of three teenagers in a time of transition. Kelley Morse (American Pie’s Chris Klein) is a spoiled rich kid from Boston, preparing to follow the path his father has set out for him. Samantha Cavanaugh (Leelee Sobieski) is a small-town sweetheart with high aspirations for her future, and Jasper Arnold (Halloween H2O’s Josh Harnett) is her dedicated, yet unambitious small-town boyfriend.

The film begins with Morse taking his new Mercedes for a joyride into the country, where he encounters Arnold and his buddies. A car race ensues and goes terribly wrong, sending the town diner up in flames and the two rivals into the hands of the law. The court sentences the pair to spend the summer rebuilding the diner, and Morse is forced to board with Arnold’s family.

During the diner’s reconstruction, Morse and Cavanaugh become romantically involved, and the film shifts its focus onto the conflicts the relationship produces. Cavanaugh must choose between the seductive big-city boy and staying loyal to her committed boyfriend–guess which one she picks.

Struggle and turmoil are dug out of the past to add depth to the one-dimensional characters, but in the end, all character development is merely a backdrop to the puppy love between Morse and Cavanaugh. When the screenplay requires Morse to give a lengthy monologue about his mother’s suicide, it is used as a tool to get the two lovers in the sack. This is as deep as the movie gets.

Piznarski brings to the project a history of work in television–experience clearly reflected in the film. Here on Earth comes across as less of a feature film than a made-for-TV movie, with all the stock characters and predictable scenarios expected in a TV program. Piznarski creates what is essentially an hour-and-a-half sitcom, which in movie time feels like a lifetime.

Here on Earth’s greatest problem is its painfully predictable paint-by-number screenplay. Everything the viewer expects from a movie like this is here: Cavanaugh dances and makes breakfast in her pajamas a là Risky Business, Morse bares his muscular body all over town, and there are many not-so-witty pick-up lines.

The bottom line is Here on Earth offers no surprises. It’s a story that’s been told many times before, only with different names and faces playing the roles.