Misogynistic, bottom-feeder teen romance borrows plot - but not intelligence, wit - from 'Cyrano'
Another lowest-common-denominator high school romance made from the cannibalized parts of equally unambitious teen fare, "Whatever It Takes" stakes its bottom-feeder comedy ground almost immediately with a student assembly scene in which the school nurse (Julia Sweeney in a career low) demonstrates condom application on a five-foot phallus.
And it's all downhill from there.
Ryan (Shane West from TV's "Once and Again") and Maggie (Marla Sokoloff, the secretary on "The Practice") are next door neighbors, best friends and lonely hearts. She's sweet and dead sexy but can't find a beau, apparently because her IQ is larger than her bra size. He's one of those handsome movie "geeks" (illustrated mostly by the fact that he plays the accordion), hopelessly stuck on arrogant, air-headed Ashley (Jodi Lyn O'Keefe), the Prettiest Vixen in School.
But oh-so-clever Ryan has concocted a plan: In exchange for tips on getting next to Ashley, he agrees to help the "bump 'em and dump 'em" school stud (James Franco) bag Maggie. He thinks it would be cool to nail a "brain." What a good friend that Ryan is, huh?
Borrowing a page from "Cyrano de Bergerac" -- apparently the only page without any intelligence, wit or passion -- the one-tracked boys aid and abet each others' conquests. Ryan teaches Chris (Franco) to feign conscientiousness and smarts, and helps him compose poetic emails to Maggie. Chris gives Ryan pointers on becoming an insensitive jerk, since everybody knows that's what hot chicks dig.
Aside from occasionally milking the "Cyrano" set-up, director David Raynr ("Trippin'") relies entirely on stock characters and a paint-by-numbers script which includes Ryan's self-imposed guilt trip over dissing his dork squad friends to impress Ashley, Ashley's slow-mo popularity stroll (including requisite Hair Toss), the Class Clown Prom Prank (shamelessly pilfered from the dance scene in "It's a Wonderful Life") and other arduous clichés.
Then there's Ryan's inevitable crisis of conscience, which comes just as Ashley strips naked and straddles him on her bed. He abandons her to rescue Maggie from the stud Lothario. Yeah, like that couldn't wait five minutes.
As with 95 percent of teenage comedies, the moral of the story is that girls who want romance in their lives must lower their standards and, in Act Three, forgive boys for screwing them over.
The only character in "Whatever It Takes" who isn't insufferably shallow and worthless is Maggie. But for an ostensibly bright girl, she seems incapable of seeing through the paper-thin veneer the sexist Chris has put on to romance her.
Like her character, Sokoloff is the movies' only actor with any redeemable talent and charm, which makes one wonder why she signed on to something this base.
Shane West is a two-bit Chris O'Donnell clone. O'Keefe and Franco are dime-a-dozen Pretty People who, once they've outlived their usefulness as interchangeable teenage lookers, will likely disappear faster than you can say Corey Haim.
"Whatever It Takes" may make money off of easily entertained teenagers who squeal at the fart jokes, fail to notice the inherent misogyny, don't mind being talked down to and haven't seen enough movies to recognize this one's complete lack of originality.
But anyone lucid enough to identify with Maggie and see the other characters for the one-dimensional dimwits they are will wish they'd brought a barf bag to the theater.