They shouldn't make movies like this any more

March 24, 2000|By Chris Hewitt | Chris Hewitt,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

I thought Sandra Dee gave an excellent performance in the schmaltzy "Here on Earth," except it isn't Sandra Dee -- it's Leelee Sobieski. And the movie isn't set in 1954, it's 2000.

Aside from a few swear words and a reference to the sexual use of handcuffs, "Here on Earth" could have been written and filmed in 1954. Like "Peyton Place" or "A Summer Place," it deals with hot-button issues -- suicide, disease, neglect -- but does it in a superficial, Hallmark Card way.

The script is drippy, humor-free and old-fashioned: "He seems exciting to you, different, maybe even a little [dramatic pause] dangerous," says one actress.

And it's a movie where two boys have a fistfight over a girl, apparently not realizing that she's perfectly capable of deciding for herself whom she likes.

Filmed in Minneapolis/St. Paul and Welch, Minn., "Here on Earth" looks terrific, with the green fields of grass and the golden, dewy skin of Sobieski ("Eyes Wide Shut"), Chris Klein ("American Pie") and Josh Hartnett ("Halloween: H20").

But the script makes them travel back in time, so that instead of the hip-hop music and vintage clothes they would really favor, they love to hang out at the malt shop, carving their names into a wall there and making plans for the big Fourth of July hootenanny. Hokey, much?

"Here on Earth" seems not to notice that when she chooses between Klein and Hartnett, Sobieski clearly picks the wrong guy. And the point it's trying to make about annoying parents interfering in the lives of their young 'uns is a mite fuzzy, too.

Even so, Sobieski's tender performance has affecting moments, as does Hartnett's quietly impassioned work as a small-town boy.

A number of local actors contribute cameos, including Isabell Monk, who is terrific as a snappy, authoritative judge.

Monk gets the few intentional laughs in "Here on Earth." The unintentional ones come courtesy of Klein, who is unimaginably bad as the city slicker who comes in to swoop up Sobieski.

It's a role that takes him to some difficult emotional territory -- undying passion, the loss of someone close to him -- but Klein responds to all situations with one facial expression, and it seems to be asking, "Did somebody forget to take out the trash?"

`Here On Earth'

Starring Leelee Sobieski, Chris Klein

Directed by Mark Piznarski

Rated PG-13 (underage sex, drinking and language)

Running time 97 minutes

Sun score *

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