“Save the Last Burrito” might be an alternate title for John Stockwell’s well-meaning but crushingly familiar picture about an unlikely high school romance between a hard-working, ultra- straight Hispanic youth and a troubled, rebellious white rich girl. “crazy/beautiful” (the e. e. cummings-like title comes from a snippet of dialogue when, as the two snuggle in bed, she tells him he’s beautiful and he says she’s crazy) has attractive leads and avoids some of the cliches one might have expected (at least things don’t lead up to gang clashes in rain-soaked streets), but it still has the feel of a slightly elevated Afterschool Special. So did “Save the Last Dance,” but though it was equally contrived it was a trifle less bland (perhaps because of its grittier Chicago setting and its terpsichorean motif).
The leads are Kirsten Dunst, playing Nicole, the daughter of a liberal California congressman traumatized by the absence of her real mother and the presence of an unsympathetic step-mom, and Jay Hernandez, as Carlos, the talented, dedicated younger son of a woman who’s raised her brood without a husband. She drives around recklessly, ditches class, enjoys easy sex and does booze and drugs, while he takes school very seriously, avoids wild parties, has a modest streak and hopes to attend the Naval Academy. Nevertheless they’re irresistibly drawn to own another, to the amazement and displeasure of their family and friends. They don’t trip the light fantastic the way that Julia Stiles and Sean Patrick Thomas did in “Dance,” though: they just romp on the California beach as she (a school shutterbug–her artistic outlet, you see) takes cute photos of him while he’s buried up to his neck in the sand (needless to say, a passing dog makes an unwelcome appearance at this juncture). While this plot trajectory is both implausible and predictable–in much the same way as that involving Stiles and Thomas was–the stars once again make it more tolerable than it has any reason to be. Dunst is attractive even when in falling-apart mode and persuasive even when she has to recite lines like (when talking about her dad), “He doesn’t understand me.” Hernandez, meanwhile, is suitably handsome, sincere and articulate, even when he’s required to play an old-as-the-hills scene in which his older brother berates him for not living up to his potential. The only other performance of note comes from Bruce Davison, who plays Nicole’s father with heart on sleeve–probably the only way to do it, especially in the inevitable weepy reconciliation scene at the close.
The picture is directed by John Stockwell, a former actor (“Christine,” “My Science Project”) who, given the roles he suffered through early in his career, has wisely fled to a position behind the lens. He does a mostly workmanlike job, but should be ashamed to have scattered no fewer than three music montages throughout the picture, capped by a fourth (complete with soupy narration and “what happened to” snapshots) which closes it on a really mawkish note. He does, however, give the actors pretty free rein, and since they’ve been well-chosen that’s all to the good. Snatches of Spanish dialogue are also heard without subtitling in the scenes involving Carlos’ family–a nicely mature touch which the overall plot doesn’t really match.
In sum “crazy/beautiful” isn’t much of either; it’s the kind of earnest problem movie that would play better on the small screen, where its familiarity would be more welcome and its “Endless Love”-style melodramatics less corny. But at least it has good intentions and showcases two talented young leads.