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Here on Earth

Review by Elias Savada
Posted 24 March 2000

Directed by Mark Piznarski.

Starring Chris Klein, 
Leelee Sobieski, Josh Harnett, 
Bruce Greenwood, Annette O’Toole, 
Annie Corley, Stuart Wilson 
Michael Rooker.

Written by Michael Seitzman.

“To the moon, Alice!” I hear the late Jackie Gleason (as Honeymooner Ralph Kramden) telling his wife where Here on Earth should be forwarded. Look for a crash landing as this airless, misbegotten movie sinks under the onerous weight of Michael Seitzman’s boggy, recycled tale of two boys and a girl whose paths cross on the proverbial wrong side of the tracks. Stop this film, you’ll want to get off, unless you like that unintentional snickering that’s breaking out in theaters nationwide showing this tragedy. This all-too-serious attempt to reprise the prep student vs. townie conundrum ends up flat as a CD. (The film’s calculated-to-sell rock soundtrack is best heard without watching the film.) Oh the pain, the PAIN!

Kelley Morse (Election’s Chris Klein) is so rich his father bought him an extra vowel, yet can’t spring for an ounce of love. Workaholic and heartless dad (Stuart Wilson, sans the gleeful menace of his nefarious characters in The Mask of Zorro and No Escape) has most recently offered up to his valedictorian son an ultra-expensive Mercedes, hoping to replace a hug with a hot rod as the boy approaches graduation day at Rallston, a posh New England private school. We’ll eventually learn that Morse and son hide one of the film’s several “secrets,” supposedly positioned to tinge the story with pathos, yet director Mark Piznarski, in his feature debut, slamdunks too many clues to make the final revelation anything resembling a mystery.

When the brawny and supposedly brainy offspring (we know this by his uninspired spouting of Robert Frost's poetry) goes slumming in the nearby small, Norman Rockwellesque town of Putnam, he gets blue collar stares from the patrons at the popular eatery Mable’s Table. After making goo-goo eyes at the porcelain-skinned Samantha “Sam” Cavanaugh (Joan of Arc’s Leelee Sobieski), her longtime, hotheaded boyfriend Jasper (Josh Hartnett from Halloween: H20) suffers a disastrous case of road rage with the out-of-towner that obliterates the local gas station and the adjacent diner, which had been in Sam’s family for several generations.

The rest of the film finds both boys responsible in the eyes of the law and forced to help rebuild what they have destroyed. Rich boy/poor boy bonding (actually the lack thereof) and the sexual awakenings of the girl betwixt them take up most of the time, as Sam, her makeup and hair perfect for a prom date in way too many scenes, is attracted to the moody, Adonis-like Kelley. The resulting triangle results in a flood of sharp, hot-headed edges and bad feelings, as the rich kid mopes by himself, forgoing happy meals but getting drunk with cows.

One of the two most dysfunctional scenes in the film occurs on one of those hot summer days. Sam’s boiling sexually as the warm sunshine pounds the glistening, sweaty body of a shirtless, narcissistic “I’m a hunk; fly me.” Kelley. “I’m hot,” she mutters. “Oh no!” the audience laughs as she stares at the young stud muffin. There’s small talk of handcuffs. I wonder: let’s jail the screenwriter.

Later I think, "Let’s amend the arrest warrant and throw in director of photography Michael D. O’Shea for too much sun-drenched, luminous flawlessness." Which brings me to another cricket-chirpy sequence bathed in bucolic brilliance but lacking in anything but droll educational value. It’s a geography/anatomy lesson in which Kelley plays doctor/teacher with Sam, cradled on a bed of grass, with his idea of organic statehood. He caresses her Florida feet and North Carolina knee, moving north to my home state of Maryland (belly button). Censors must have eliminated references to Virginia, but Sam’s breasts are christened New York and New Jersey before the nutty professor lands on the mouth of Massachusetts. Not enough contrived cuteness for you? Sam zings a final “(Massachusetts) welcomes you.” Ugh. 

Although sporting an impressive supporting cast (Annette O’Toole and Bruce Greenwood as Sam’s parents; Annie Corley and Michael Rooker as Jasper’s folks), TV director Piznarski (Relativity, My So-Called Life) garners nothing but lead out of Sobieski and Klein, both of whom have flourished under better supervision. Overwrought with kitsch and with an obvious nod to 1970’s Love Story, Here on Earth’s final score is two hankies, and one star (out of four). They got the title wrong too: talk about Hell on Earth.

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