Sign up for our free newsletter

Free D.C. news, delivered to your inbox daily.

There’s a long and repetitious history of writers watching their precious black-and-white babies emerge into lurid slatterns onscreen, but surely nothing could have prepared Nicholas Sparks for what director Adam Shankman and an army of publicity mavens have made of his novel A Walk to Remember. Whatever the book was, it couldn’t have been a Christer vanity project for a bimbo teen singer. It’s so cheap, so clueless, and so amateurishly made it makes Adrian Lyne’s Lolita look like Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita. Mandy Moore, who has the unformed look of a fetus in lip gloss, plays Jamie Sullivan, a devoutly Christian high school frump and astronomy geek whose self-possession and disregard of public opinion draw the interest of popular boy Landon Carter (Shane West). Landon’s punishment for his involvement in a potentially fatal prank throws him into contact with Jamie, who sings her solo directly at him in church. (Dad’s the town preacher.) Moore’s glittery pop persona is disguised by a brown dye job, but she praises the Lord in the breathy tones of an MTV seductress. Determined to reform for love and God, Landon rejects the in-crowd and chastely pursues his starry-eyed virgin, never quite understanding the gaping metaphor of her interest in the heavens. Because of the movie’s pretense to Serious Themes, the usual teen-flick idiocies—the languid, chortling popular kids and the stiff, unreal whippersnapper dialogue that indicates the filmmakers are decades past their last PeeChee folder—glare abominably. To its credit, the gee-you’re-beautiful-under-that-cardigan scene appears but doesn’t take: Jamie emerges the slinky coquette, to Lander’s agog surprise, but only for opening night of the school play. Moore baby-talks woodenly through her scenes; West matches her every pout with a sneer and fights to keep the top of his forehead in his shots—he’s one of those kissy-faced brutes in the Luke Perry mold, whose features begin halfway down his face. By the time Jamie reveals her Terrible Secret, we’re so numbed by the script holes (the kids don’t know who J. Lo is?) and lugubrious uplift that the berserk denouement hardly registers. As for the secret, I’ll save you the trouble: She’s a man. —Arion Berger