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'Here on Earth'? Not Any Earth We Know

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 24, 2000


    'Here on Earth' Chris Klein and Leelee Sobieski fall in love in "Here on Earth." (20th Century Fox)
"Here on Earth," a moldy teenage tear-jerker, takes us back to the '50s. Never mind that it's set in modern-day Massachusetts. In the real world, even Amish adolescents have been affected by the information age. Yet here, the young people of fictitious Putnam are still going steady, drag racing and drinking vanilla shakes. Off-screen they're probably going to sock hops, necking and playing 45s on the hi-fi.

Mabel's Table, an old-fashioned diner, is the center of the rustic Berkshires community, a funky blue-collar oasis that's essentially off-limits to students of the posh private school nearby. But if you were a preppy looking for trouble, you'd swagger into Mabel's, order a shake, flirt with the waitress and tick off her boyfriend.

Kelley (Chris Klein), a standard-issue poor little rich kid, does all of the above. The encounter subsequently sparks a dangerous car chase, which ends in the destruction of the popular diner. The court decrees an apt punishment, ordering Kelley and Jasper (Josh Harnett), the angry boyfriend, to help rebuild the diner.

As the summer progresses, Jasper's beguiling girlfriend, Samantha (Leelee Sobieski), becomes increasing attracted to Kelley, and the two fall passionately in love. Jasper, an understanding clodhopper, is jealous, of course, but he values Samantha's happiness above his own.

The scenario recalls "The End of the Affair" in a training bra--an unabashedly emotional love triangle that is shamelessly manipulative in the end. That's not to say that writer Michael Seitzman's bland relic is in the same class with the Graham Greene adaptation. Romantic melodramas don't come much shallower or more dishonest than Seitzman's.

Mark Piznarski, a veteran of episodic television, attempts to make the leap from small screen to silver screen without success. Utterly lacking in visual style, the film may as well have been made for the Lifetime channel. The hilltops seem stunted and the sunny meadows dull.

Although the three leads are among Hollywood's most talented newcomers, the roles they assume are as stale as yesterday's Boston beans. Klein, previously cast in comic roles, still gets a laugh or two as Richie Rich in love. Unfortunately, it isn't on purpose. In one scene, he nuzzles his lady love's big toe, pretending that it is Florida. He then embarks on a geographical expedition that continues till he arrives at her breasts: New Jersey and New York. Few actors, however accomplished, could deliver this overripe pillow talk without seeming like fools.

Bawdy movies such as "American Pie" offer more complex characterizations and explore issues that actually resonate with contemporary teens. "Here on Earth" seems aimed at pre-adolescent girls for whom the fine-looking Klein might be reason enough to buy a ticket.

HERE ON EARTH (97 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for language and sexual situations.


© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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