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Disney/Buena Vista achieve mathematical precision in audience-targeting with teen-seeking missile 'Crazy/Beautiful.'

You gotta just love that "Latin Explosion," man. We have it to thank for Ricky Martin, chiles rellenos, Speedy Gonzalez, and now Crazy/Beautiful, the focus-group-tested-for-your-pleasure update of Romeo and Juliet, only with a marketing-department insistence on 1) a happy ending (big surprise), and 2) connecting with that sometimes elusive but highly remunerative Hispanic teen demographic.

A dirtied-up and slutty but nonetheless alluring Kristin Dunst stars as Nicole Oakley, the troubled daughter of a limousine lefty Congressman played by Bruce Davison, a ubiquitous character actor who was last seen playing a Senator in X-Men, and seems to have taken the political demotion rather well, especially since in Crazy/Beautiful his second wife is a wealthy heiress of some sort, so he gets to live in a beachfront glass house in Pacific Palisades. Add to this heady stew Latin hunk Jay Hernandez, who plays Freddy Prinze Jr., I mean Carlos Nuñez, a serious, wooden Naval Academy-bound denizen of East L.A. who has to ride the bus two hours each way just for the opportunity to attend tony Pacific Palisades High.

Carlos' dedication to breaking out of the barrio is sorely tested when he meets Nicole one afternoon after taking a micturation break from history class. She is ditching and drinking with her rich brat friends, and no sooner do they persuade Carlos to sip from their "water" bottle are they beset upon by a priggish hall monitor with a detention agenda.

This, of course, portends poorly for Carlos' future, because you just know, dammit, that they will fall in love and Nicole will ruin Carlos' one shot at success for her own edification. Or maybe you don't know that yet, but you should, because this movie has been made at least a thousand times. You know, the wrong-side-of-the-tracks or caught-between-two-worlds romance tropes that Hollywood never seems to tire of churning out.

Ah, but actor-turned-director John Stockwell (the sidekick-guy in Christine, sort of a poor man's Anthony Edwards) has a twist in store. Standard Hollywood practice is to make the rich person's parents disapprove of the suitor who is attempting to cross social strata. In Crazy/Beautiful, as Congressman Oakley has a bit of a, shall we say, do-gooder-liberal Latino fetish, he seeks to protect Carlos from his own daughter, being that she is a self-destructive slut who will only impede the aspiring pilot on his flight from indigence.

So the question is: Just what has caused this child of privilege to become so unkempt and crazy? If you would rather wait to find out at the El Con, skip to the next paragraph now. Everyone else ready? All right, you'd have never guessed it was the suicide of her mother, would you? Because the last thing anyone would suspect as a teen-film method to lend gravity to the plot is a suicide of some kind. So suicide (including Nicole's own zero-for-five record at it) serves as the four-cylinder engine driving this whole Honda Civic of a story, for it is at the root of the difficulties in all of Nicole's relationships. How unexpected!

Turning briefly to the Montagues, I mean the Nuñezes, we find that the conflict over Carlos and Nicole's intercultural romancing is not confined to the Palisades. In East L.A., too, they have a few bones to pick with the interloping loco white chick. Carlos' mother is a hamfistedly stereotypical rendering of the overprotective Mamá, who busts ass at more jobs than the average Jamaican so that her pride and joy can one day drop bombs on Third-World nations compliments of the U.S. Navy. Carlos' brother Hector represents that required element of all poverty-escape movies, the Less-Gifted-But-Hardworking sibling who can't escape the ghetto himself, but is going to make damn sure that his fool brother doesn't fuck up by dating a white chick. And, of course, Carlos has some homies who are "living la vida loca" (as Congressman Oakley risibly puts it) and resent what they see as an unacceptable whitification of their ése. In fact, the depiction of Carlos' family and friends as decidedly mistrustful and less tolerant of whites than vice versa could only have come from a gringo director.

I don't suppose I need to tell you that at first the pair succumb to the external familio-cultural pressure that seeks to keep them apart, and then are gloriously reunited for a little half-assed eloping to Twentynine Palms. Nicole, you see, is on the lam because her wicked stepmother wants her sent to a behavioral rehab camp in Utah. After thinking better of the running-away plan, they return to L.A., and I'll let you guess whether or not things work out tidily. Hint: Nobody left the theater with tear stains.

This is not to say that Crazy/Beautiful is a movie about which only fictional reviewer David Manning would have good things to say; in all fairness, it has its moments. Kristin Dunst can make her chin quiver like no one since Molly Ringwald, and even though she's intentionally grubbed up, she has an indisputable warmth and beguiling charm that glows from underneath her perpetually greasy hair. Hernandez, whose performance is, to put it charitably, understated, also has a certain magnetism, and I don't mean that metal sticks to him.

And despite what seems at first to be a one-dimensional portrayal of a careerist politician who doesn't have enough time for his family, Davison's Congressman Oakley is ultimately redeemed as a character by the time the movie ends. Add to that a bitchin' soundtrack featuring the thumpings of the Dust Brothers and the crossover-hop of Cypress Hill and you have, well, Save the Last Dance with less dancing.

But what did you expect? Unless you are a teen from the Foothills with a paramour in South Tucson, you may want to hold off on this one until it hits Blockbuster's shelves.

Crazy/Beautiful
Rated NR
Director: John Stockwell
Cast: Kursten Dunst and Jay Hernandez

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