Here on Earth (United States, 2000)
Note to readers: this review contains spoilers. Those who wish to see Here On Earth without having previous knowledge of certain plot elements would do well to bail out now and return after they have seen the film.
They say that anything can happen in the movies, and Here On Earth gives several examples of it. A self-centered jock willingly gives his lifelong love to his rival. A girl dying of cancer suffers no pain or distress as the disease ravages her body. And, most incredibly of all, two teenagers show evidence of having memorized poetry. Thus does Here On Earth, a tearjerker for teens, strain our suspension of disbelief.
Credibility issues aside, the movie is not well written. Director Mark Piznarski (who cut his teeth on such TV shows as "Relativity" and "NYPD Blue") and screenwriter Michael Seitzman, both apparently having recently graduated from Melodrama 101, apply all the cliches they can uncover. You know things have entered the realm of the overly-familiar when you can predict whole segments of dialogue - that is, when those lines aren't howlingly laughable. The story centers around an uninspired love affair, then tries to develop dramatic power by employing traditional techniques of audience manipulation. In a way, I envy people who fall for this sort of thing, because at least they'll get something out of the movie, which is more than I can say for myself.
The early portions of Here On Earth are as drenched in testosterone as the later parts are in estrogen. Kelley Morse (Chris Klein) is a stuck-up senior at Rallston Academy, an exclusive boys' prep school set just outside of Hicksville, New York. One evening, Kelley and his buddies take a joyride into town, where they get into it with one of the locals, Jasper Arnold (Josh Hartnett), and his friends. An out-of-control car race ensues, ending with a crash and a local diner going up in flames. Kelley and Jasper are arrested and the judge sentences them to probation as long as they work for free with the employed crew to rebuild the diner, which is owned by the family of Jasper's girlfriend, Samantha (Leelee Sobieski). But when Sam spies Kelley without his shirt on, all thoughts of Jasper slip from her mind. Soon, the two of them are running through the woods together, staring vacantly at beautiful naturescapes, and reciting Robert Frost (my favorite poet, incidentally) to each other. But tragedy looms ahead, as Samantha becomes stricken with one of those mysterious cancers that only victimize attractive women in movies.
Since the characters are not written with any degree of depth or feeling, it's up to the actors to bring them to life. In that regard, Leelee Sobieski, a capable young actress who will almost certainly be cast as Helen Hunt's daughter in some upcoming film, is successful. Sobieski, who has appeared in A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries, Deep Impact, and Eyes Wide Shut on the big screen and as the title character in the made-for-TV production, Joan of Arc, is a genuine talent, and she does impressive things with this underwritten part. Unfortunately, her co-stars aren't up to the challenge. Josh Hartnett (H20) is flat and Chris Klein (American Pie) fails to convince us that his character is undergoing the uncaring snob-to-perfect guy transformation. His robotic performance is fine early in the film, but it doesn't get the job done later. The supporting cast includes Annette O'Toole, Michael Rooker (not playing a psycho for a change), and Canadian actor Bruce Greenwood. Greenwood gets to play a scene where he weeps uncontrollably over his daughter's fate. It's one of the movie's few moving moments, but this is probably because Greenwood has had practice. This is the third film in which he has portrayed a bereft parent (the other two being Atom Egoyan's masterpieces, Exotica and The Sweet Hereafter).
Ultimately, Here On Earth doesn't serve a purpose beyond giving melodramatically susceptible girls in the audience a chance to cry. Perhaps the filmmakers believe that, since it's aimed at a relatively young crowd (witness the "soft" PG-13 rating), they don't have to worry overmuch about things like a well-crafted story. And it doesn't matter if the males can act; they just have to look good with their shirts off. (Sobieski, by the way, keeps hers on, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that this movie is not at all male-oriented. Although it is perhaps worth mentioning that one of the guys nicknames her breasts "New York" and "New Jersey".) It seems probable that when the final box office tallies come in, Here On Earth will be in a low orbit.
Here on Earth (United States, 2000)
Cast: Chris Klein, Leelee Sobieski, Josh Hartnett, Michael Rooker, Annie Corley, Bruce Greenwood, Annette O'Toole, Elaine Hendrix, Stuart Wilson
Screenplay: Michael Seitzman
Cinematography: Michael D. O'Shea
Music: Andrea Morricone
U.S. Distributor: 20th Century Fox