Whatever It Takes

Directed by David Raynr (really David Hubbard)
Starring: Shane West, Marla Sokoloff, James Franco, Jodi Lyn O'Keefe, Aaron Paul, Julia Sweeney.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements, sexual material and language.

Review by Matt Heffernan
March 26, 2000

Sometimes it's difficult to figure out what a film is ripping off from its trailer. For example, Deep Blue Sea looked derivative of Jaws, but turned out to be Alien. This week, what looked like a quick cash-in on the success of American Pie, is actually yet another variation on Cyrano de Bergerac. It seems the only thing you can be sure of is that the film won't be original.

At Gilmore High School, in Southern California, the 2000 senior prom is coming. This year's theme: Titanic Dreams (that is SO 1998). Without dates, lifelong friends and neighbors Ryan Woodman (Shane West) and Maggie Carter (Marla Sokoloff) agree to go together. However, Ryan's dream date is Ashley Grant (Jodi Lyn O'Keefe), but hanging around with Maggie and Floyd (Aaron Paul) makes him too unpopular to date her. To the rescue comes Chris Campbell (James Franco), Ashley's popular cousin, who will help him, on the condition that Ryan helps Chris get Maggie.

Ryan knows that Chris is just a superficial jock, but his desire for Ashley is enough to make him sink to Chris' level of deceit. They fool Maggie into thinking that Chris is a soulful, sensitive guy (like Ryan). Chris helps Ryan be an abrasive jock, which is enough to turn Ashley on, but is she what Ryan really wants? Maybe the girl-next-door is the right path, on which he has voluntarily placed a big, hulking roadblock.

I must say that I expected less -- a lot less -- after seeing Here on Earth, which looked better from the previews. But like I said, they can be deceiving. Whatever It Takes does an adequate job retelling this old tale. Enough humor and charm is thrown in to make it appealing for teenagers who have never even heard of José Ferrer. Avoiding the many clichés of high school comedies proves to be too difficult, but that can be forgiven to a degree.

Their adaptation of the famous Cyrano balcony scene is done in a creative way. Maggie is unlikely to accept Ryan's voice for Chris', so he uses the giant soundboard in his bedroom (it must be nice to be rich) to alter his voice over the phone. David Raynr (the directing alter ego of actor David Hubbard) makes these conventions work. This is his second directorial work, following last year's Trippin', which takes place at a mostly black high school. He has now proven to fairly adept at filming a lily-white cast at Beverly Hills High School. He even uses its famous retractable gym, that reveals a pool, for a climactic prom scene.

I could really do without more films that end with the prom. Only Brian De Palma's Carrie does it right, but in today's climate of high school violence, we'll never see such a bold statement in the near future. I guess I'll have to settle for chlorinated water until pig's blood is en vogue again.

For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
Whatever It Takes (2000)

Here's some merchandise for sale at Amazon.com
Whatever It Takes (2000) -- VHS
Whatever It Takes (2000) -- DVD
Whatever It Takes: Original Soundtrack -- Compact Disc

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Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan