You could take a camcorder to the mall, videotape strangers at random, and end up with a better movie than Mandy Moore's How to Deal. Soggy and melodramatic, this mess aims to address the obstacles we encounter en route to romance. But a pessimistic mood causes the picture to drag its feet. Staged without an ounce of genuine sentiment, Deal makes Britney Spears' dismal Crossroads look like Casablanca.

Screenwriter Neena Beber draws inspiration from two separate Sarah Dessen novels, but can't squeeze one decent movie out of the material. In only her second starring role, Moore plays Halley Martin, a disillusioned high schooler learning how to deal with a lifetime's worth of problems. Halley's divorced dad (Peter Gallagher) has a new fiancée, while her mom (Allison Janney) is still coping with the split. Her best friend, Scarlett (Alexandra Holden), is pregnant, and her older sister's pending nuptials appear doomed from the start. Out of the blue, Halley is falling for a detached hunk (Trent Ford) who might be able to convince her that true love exists.

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