By Rob Blackwelder
There's just no excuse for making a Shakespeare knock-off with "Savedby the Bell" quality dialogue. When a movie modernizes The Bard, evenif it's set it in a high school, the chief obligation is to dialogue aboveall else.
"10 Things I Hate About You" -- a "Clueless"-spawnremake of "The Taming of the Shrew" -- while an above averageentry in the recent pool of teen-targeted pics, is sorely lacking in thisarena.
Penned by two office temps-cum-screenwriters and directedby a feature film rookie (Gil Junger) as well, "10 Things" isa bright idea (I'm always an advocate of fiddling with Shakespeare), butit is an interpretation without poetry or rhythm, occasionally cashingin on multi-syllabic, Scrabble-winning words in a misguided attempt tomake its characters look rebelliously intellectual.
The story (deep breath!):
Bianca Stratford (Larisa Oleynik), the most popular girlat castle-like Padua High School, has a strict and pregnancy-paranoid obstetricianpapa (Larry Miller), who, wanting to appear flexible while protecting hisprincess from the raging hormones of teenage boys, won't allow her to dateunless her older sister is dating as well.
However, that sister, the acerbic Katarina (Julia Stiles),is so abrasive and sarcastic that she can send even the most self-assuredof fellows scurrying away with tail tucked, leaving lovely Bianca's romanticprospects crushed.
Meanwhile, over-eager sophomore Cameron James (Joseph Gordon-Levitt),is new to PHS and positively smitten with Bianca, and he knows the score.Somehow he must find someone to take Kat out before he can even take ashot at his dream girl.
Enter Patrick Verona (the Shakespeare references get morerandom and clumsy as the film goes on), perceived as Padua's most petulant,vulgar criminal type. He's a tough all right, but with a romantic sidethat reveals itself subtly in his irresistible, 100-watt smile.
With the unknowing aide of one of his wealthier rivalsfor Bianca's affections, Cameron arranges a bribe that aims a determinedPatrick (Heath Ledger) toward Kat's porcupine heart.
Although "10 Things" frequently throws comediccurve balls of unexpected creativity and wonderful wit (one small exampleis how ruthlessly tart Padua High's teachers are), most of the pictureis flat, spiritless and hopelessly staged. This is a movie in dire needof a script doctor.
The virtually unknown cast shows a lot of promise, evenif their characters are underwritten and even uninteresting at times.
Stiles, who is already starring in two more modernizedShakespeare adaptations this year (a Manhattan "Hamlet"and "O," an "Othello"set in the world of high school basketball), definitely has all the incorrigiblespirit required of the shrewish Kat, but her personality seems to be definedas much by her bitter chick wardrobe as anything else.
Ledger (from Fox TV's failed "Roar"), is believableas the kind of conspicuous charmer who could still sneak in under Kat'sradar with self-deprecating romantic gestures like serenading her on thefootball field's PA system. But he has to sacrifice a lot of characterto the goddess of political correctness. Let's face it: "The Tamingof the Shrew's" Elizabethan happy ending just does not play in a post-feministworld.
Oleynik, best know as Nickelodeon's "Alex Mack,"plays Bianca as a teddy bear-clutching sweetie in sun dresses and sweaters.Forced to alternate between an angelic air and inane teenage idiocy ("Ilike my Sketchers tennis shoes, but I love my Prada bag"), she doesher best with a wildly inconsistent part.
Faring better are Gordon-Levitt (the teenage alien on "3rdRock from the Sun") as the boy bewitched by Bianca and stand-up comicLarry Miller, as the father who gets the movie's best laugh by fittingBianca with an Empathy Belly before her first date to remind her what shecould happen if she doesn't stay chaste.
Although it finally comes together with an extremely satisfyingfinal 20 minutes of romance and charisma, the vast majority of this moviepractically hoists disappointment on you because it's bursting at its seamswith unrealized potential.
If only the one of the characters was a wit instead ofa smart aleck, it might have made the difference.
I mean, I wasn't expecting iambic pentameter here, butwhile "10 Things" starts promisingly enough with a scatteredlines of snappy dialogue (going out with Kat is referred to as "extremedating"), it quickly degrades to the point that the allegedly edgylead characters end up rather generic. Kat goes from tempestuous to merelytesty and Patrick, it seems, is just a nice guy in a bad boy haircut.
What this movie needed (I can't believe what I'm aboutto say) was a dose of snap and spice, a la "Dawson's Creek,"the trashy teen soap in which the young characters are ridiculously --but believably -- well-spoken.
But seeing as there were several people at the radio stationpromotional screening that couldn't answer the DJ's trivia question "Whowrote 'The Taming of the Shrew?'" I expect the target audience forthis film probably won't notice any of the things I just complained aboutat length.
Run time: 97 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 31st March 1999
Box Office Worldwide: $53.5M
Distributed by: Buena Vista Pictures
Production compaines: Touchstone Pictures, Mad Chance, Jaret Entertainment
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 61%
Fresh: 38 Rotten: 24
IMDB: 7.2 / 10
Director: Gil Junger
Starring: Heath Ledger as Patrick Verona, Julia Stiles as Kat Stratford, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Cameron James, Larisa Oleynik as Bianca Stratford, David Krumholtz as Michael, Andrew Keegan as Joey Donner, Susan May Pratt as Mandella, Gabrielle Union as Chastity, Larry Miller as Walter Stratford, Daryl Mitchell as Mr. Morgan, Allison Janney as Ms. Perky, David Leisure as Mr. Chapin, Kyle Cease as Bogie Lowenstien, Greg Jackson as Scruvy
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