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REVIEW: 'Endless Love' ★ 1/2

'Love's' spark is doused

Michael Phillips

Talking Pictures

10:38 AM EST, February 13, 2014

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Alongside the reboots of "RoboCop" and "About Last Night," this week's bizarre "I Love the '80s" multiplex tribute continues with the remake of "Endless Love," a movie just begging to go up in the flames of camp. If only somebody had brought a match.

The film, which is more about endlessness than love, comes from the Scott Spencer novel about the obsessive arsonist and the rich girl he loves, endlessly. Franco Zeffirelli filmed a wildly unfaithful version in 1981, to mass derision and pretty good box office. The new film leaves out most of the story's uncomfortable bits and maintains a bland, glum prettiness in place of feverish desire and sociopathology. No strain or fuss here, no hint of voyeuristic craziness or stalker behavior. Call it "Endless Love, Within Reasonable Limits."

The '81 version taunted audiences with "the love every parent fears." The remake, co-written with Joshua Safran by director Shana Feste of "Country Strong," won't scare anybody. The ages of the teenagers have been bumped up to 17 (her) and 18 (him). The sensitive yet hunky mechanic's son is played by English actor Alex Pettyfer; Gabriella Wilde, also from England, is the medical school-bound princess in mourning for her late brother. Wilde and Pettyfer are both in their mid-20s. If this were a movie about supermodel-ish teachers having a summer fling in the vicinity of a Georgia high school, the casting might work. But it isn't, and it doesn't.

What happens in "Endless Love"? The boy/man, David, teaches the girl/woman, Jade, to live. He proves his worth by fighting for their endless love against all predictable obstacles. Bruce Greenwood is obstacle No. 1, Jade's controlling doctor father. With Jade's summer internship looming, the kids/adults make sweet love by firelight, and then in a montage set to an overhelpful country-folk ballad, they squirt each other with water guns. Also there's a house fire, which figured rather differently into the action of the novel and the first film.

Locating the remake's setting in Georgia does nothing for the story; the reasons likely had everything to do with that state's generous film production tax incentives.

Joely Richardson does her level best as the sympathetic mother, a one-time novelist whose book David reads so he can later say over dinner: "You reminded me how much I love to read." Elsewhere, Jade makes eyes at David and says: "Let's be young and dumb, just for tonight." And then let's make a movie in that same spirit! If only.

"Endless Love" conveys precious little of that crazy, mixed-up feeling, even with powder keg Robert Patrick (as David's dad) in the cast. By the time restraining orders are threatened you're wondering if someone pre-issued a restraining order against the film itself.

mjphillips@tribune.com

"Endless Love" - 1 1/2 stars

MPAA rating: PG-13 (for sexual content, brief partial nudity, some language and teen partying)

Running time: 1:43

Opens: Friday