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Here on Earth

posted by Paul on 12/12/01

"I myself was once a swinger of birches" - Chris Klein

There comes a time in everyone's life when they encounter a movie (or a piece of literature) that touches them, that renders them speechless, that transcends and exceeds all expectations. It's a rare and indescribable experience. Occasionally, this movie will strike at the core of their being. Life-changing, life-affirming or just awe-inspring in its mastery and scope, this movie encapsulates so much that it is listed as a national treasure - "It's a Wonderful Life", "Shawshank Redemption" and "To Kill A Mockingbird" are just three masterpieces that benefit from this description. Rich, timeless opuses that define a nation. Then, on the flip side of that shiny, tempting coin you have movies like "Here on Earth". They, too, exceed all expectations, inspire awe and, alas, define a generation.

Inspiring awe comes naturally to Chris Klein. After all, this is the jock who was plucked from school to play a slow-witted jock in "Election". That role, in a great movie, gave him instant credibility and critics were amazed that this unknown could play dumb so well. From there, Klein nailed many more roles playing slow-witted jocks who smiled a lot and struggled with words - the range was astounding. Then he appeared in "Here On Earth", where he plays a "quick-witted" rich kid who acts dumb and stumbles over words - with the only problem being that the role called for a smart-ass who didn't stumble over words. Clearly, not stumbling over words and acting smart is a task that will forever daunt and perplex Chris Klein, and critics are now inspired by how insipid he is.

Chris: “So all I have to do is stand here and look like I just got hit with a bad case of diarrhea while out at a bar? That’s it?!?”
LeeLee and Josh: “Yep.. that’s the first and only lesson in the Elijah Wood School of Acting”

I first viewed "Here On Earth" in the summer of 2000. I was bored and with my inexplicable fascination with cheesy teen movies still very much in place, I figured I'd familarize myself with the works of the "hottest new thing", Chris Klein. Surely, any young actor tipped by industry-bribed Journalists to be a future superstar couldn't be a bad actor - since everyone in Hollywood is honest. That was my reasoning. And hey, if I can sit through "She's All That~, "Can't Hardly Wait" and "Varsity Blues" more than once, "Here On Earth" would be a doddle.

The video box assured me that "Chris Klein smolders in every scene". Wow, that's pretty high praise indeed. That sealed it. "Magnolia" or Chris Klein smoldering? I simply couldn't resist watching him smolder in every scene. Then, when the movie was concluded I figured that this perceptive reviewer was using some sort of alternative dictionary, in which "smolders" translated to "makes an ass out of himself" or "looks gormless". It's the only conclusion I can reach.

”God Bless America and ummm… stuff?”

The movie also stars Leelee Sobieski and Josh Hartnett, who were both regulars in vapid teen vehicles. I loved their work, if pretending to like Elijah Wood could be classified as work. Ok, I loved the fact that Leelee sounds like a man and has the emotional range of Rain Man, and I loved how no-one has figured that Hartnett and Sobieski are really Tommy Lee Jones' and Helen Hunt's lovechildren. Bad acting and ridiculous dialogue is a secret interest of mine - teen movies deliver both in droves. I guess I just love to watch movies that are so laughably bad, they can be enjoyed again and again. Here, I expected chemistry, high melodrama and some entertainment.

What I got was altogether different.

"Guys… go change your clothes, cause we are soooo gonna go out and mess with some locals tonight."

It all begins promisingly enough. We have Klein trying to play cocky, Sobieski his small-town "rival" and her simple-headed beau, Jasper (played by Josh Hartnett). Kelley Morse is no ordinary kid. When "Here on Earth" starts we see him strutting along, smiling inanely with two lackeys by his side. He gets a car delivered to campus, but his Principal prohibits him from driving it and confiscates the keys. Being an outrageous rebel, Kelley steals the keys and drives up to Samantha's (Leelee Sobieski) family diner to cause some trouble. He's such a cad. You'd think at this point he'd go for someone more feminine, but Kelley and his friends sit at the cafe acting obnoxious, trying to hit on Jasper's girl. Jasper is just a one-dimensional hick with a low I.Q, so he and Kelley don't see eye to eye - since Kelley is quite the sharp wit with his "stupid" put-downs. There is a silly skirmish and afterwards they have a ridiculous car chase and, you've guessed it, destroy Samantha's cafe. OMG, MELODRAMA 101!

"Hey Kelley… I thought said we were all gonna get changed before we headed out."
"For some reason.. it wasn’t in the movie’s budget for me to have more than one shirt. Don’t worry dudes, I’ll be taking it off later anyway.. when I get the chick!! LOL!!"

Now, why these guys would have a car chase is, quite frankly, beyond the realms of logic. But why they'd fight over Leelee is even more illogical. Neither is going to make them happy. Turns out that destroying the cafe is the turning point in the movie; both guys have to do community service, and Kelley moves in with Samantha's family and helps rebuild the diner. At first, he is stoic and arrogant, but is soon taken Samantha's charms (she smiles a lot and talks in a whisper) and the pair fall in love. You see, that's a problem because Jasper also loves Samantha and since Samantha is dying, it's all going to end with wet handkerchiefs. I think we can all agree that it's every girl's dream that Chris Klein and Josh Hartnett will be battling for their affections, no? True.

With classic retorts like "You couldn't get a girl if you were driving a car like that!" and "What's worse? Knowing that your girl bailed you out or knowing she's adding me to her fantasy file?!", the movie immediately cements itself as a classic - so lacking in spark it might as well invent as many goofy, witless lines as possible while we watch as Klein and Sobieski turn to cinematic feces. You'd think that along the way, someone would have the guts to question the script, the direction, the actual logic of the story. You see, the script comes across more like a self-parody than a true love story and there is no actual logic in evidence.

The overall theme of the movie is that love is a strong, powerful force and that it transcends earthly posessions. I think. Either that, or reciting famous poetry and smiling is all you need to get into a young girl's panties. There's a scene which shows Klein reciting Robert Frost's "Birches" and impressing the hell out of Sobieski's character, who is hiding behind him. The problem is, that's the only connection they have. Kelley's interest in poetry is supposed to reflect that beneath his "Richie Rich" persona lurks a really deep guy - and Samantha is taken by that supposed intelligence. Of course, any guy who thinks a fifties-style car chase is a cool idea and who talks to cows is probably not that bright.

Kelley: “Oh.. can you feel it? It’s like we’re showering together in the Bathroom of God."
Samantha: “Wow that’s like sooo deep. Such profoundness makes me wanna go into the Bedroom of Kelley." (wink wink)

The other theme of the movie is probably identity. The characters act depending on their perceived social position. Jasper and Sam are initially hostile towards Kelley because he represents everything they hate - the kid who works little and has/gets everything. Conversely, they work hard and have old-fashioned family values and just enough money to survive. Deep down, they are all the same - insecure and vulnerable. Kelley is like the Andrew character from "The Breakfast Club"; his father is unloving and has a discomforting hold over him. The movie deals (unconvincingly, of course) with his struggles for an individual identity. He misses his deceased mother and craves to be understood and loved. So, in many ways, the movie represents the importance of love and family - the two things that make Sam happy.

In its struggles to be sweet and sincere, or even slightly touching/insightful, the movie forgets to make any of the characters human. They act robotically. When it's announced that Samantha has cancer, only her father is convincingly upset. Kelley and Jasper just get on with things and utter more stupid dialogue - about hating each other and wanting the best for Sam. It's odd that she gets cancer in her knee (of all places), yet when it spreads, she still smiles and even excuses Kelley wincing out. He couldn't handle another death, but returns to eulogize Sam. Even when she's dying she doesn't look much different. It might have been a decent idea to try for Chemo. But then, when Cancer is his painless and beauty-preserving, why bother?

I think the movie tries to make allusions to the American Dream. The two lovebirds want to strive for more than they are. Sam likes running, while Kelley enjoys baseball. Of course Sam likes running: she's been running away her whole life and she just hurdles into Kelley's empty life!! Furthermore, Kelley and Samantha hang out at an empty baseball stadium (that being the representative sport of the American Dream) and pitch imaginary baseballs to each other, and there's a fair amount of pastoral imagery. The baseball scene suggests that imagination brought these two saps together.

"This little piggy went to…umm…ummm… Damn.. I always forget where the little piggies go."

One of the most ridiculous scenes in the movie involves Kelley and Sam sprawled on a hilltop and Kelley kissing her from toe to head. Then he starts calling all her body parts American States. Naturally, since he's so sweet, he misses her vagina (this is Chris Klein, let's not forget) but does call her breasts New Jersey and New York. Samantha is moved, I was sickened. If she was naming Chris Klein's body parts, she should nominate his head Mars - it's big and full but lacks a trace of intelligent life.

"Well.. I’ve seen enough of NY and NJ. How’s about I stick my tongue in your Greensboro, North Carolina?"

If Samantha was so pure, then why did she only become smitten with Kelley when she saw him shirtless? The guy only had to pretend to like poetry and take off his top. And he did kill her sister's mouse. Rocky Dennis had better moves - except he broke plates, not young children's favorite pets. Interestingly, Samantha seems to be something of a blind chick - she can't see that Jasper is the one who really cares for her, but falls for the guy who has the better body and moistening lines like "I'll bring handcuffs". It's doubtful if he even has a better mind. Jasper, despite his strengths, isn't exactly a stunning advertisement for chic male fashion, and he may lack a wardrobe that includes sky blue shirts and trendy Khakis, but at least he doesn't get loaded and make an ass out of himself at the town dance. Kelley liquors himself up, hangs out in the cowshed and starts asking the cows whether he should eavesdrop the cowpoke party. The scene is notable for two reasons:

1) In each snippet of this vignette, beer bottles appear, disappear and re-appear in much the same way as the character motivations flicker throughout the movie.

2) It is quite possibly the only time you'll see a male actor acting drunk and earnestly asking a live cow "Do YOU want to dance?".

Cow #1: “Damn.. I’ve never seen a babboon drink beer before."
Cow #2: “I just hope it doesn’t get drunk and starting slinging it’s feces at us."
Cow #3 : “Damn.. I need a better agent. I can’t believe I’m in this movie.”

The cow scene was supposed to show that Kelley, being a monkey, related better to animals and that he was in touch with nature. That, or they really did want him to come across as a drunk, immature, jealous little punk. I really hoped they brought this out in a Special Edition DVD, where the director comments on every scene, and gives a little insight into what he was aiming for with each. Ok, I lie...I just want the ability to repeat instances of Chris Klein acting like a moron. That's not far off when Kelley actually goes to the dance and makes an ass out of himself by hitting on Sam and charging at Jasper, missing and actually plunging head-first into a drum kit. Chris Klein is a great spokesman for the prohibition of under-age drinking. Moments like these provide no insight as to why Kelley and Samantha would ever fall for each other. Despite their pretenses, each is as
shallow and useless as the other.

And still Sam chooses Kelley!

“Chris.. I thought you were supposed to be acting drunk in this scene?"
“What? I don’t look drunk?"
“No.. you look more like you just used one of the Joker’s tainted cosmetics in Batman."

The filmmakers were obviously trying to imbue Klein with a Brat Pack aura - the snotty, cocky rich kid who gets whatever he wants but changes when he meets the girl of his dreams. They did succeed in giving him one aspect ofa Brat Pack aura: in a few years no-one will know him and he'll wind up in rehab - probably as a result of this movie and "Say It Isn't So", where he has the indignity of receiving a blowjob from a cat!. The Mannequin in "Mannequin" was a more believable and animated love interest than Sobieski ever could be, and Klein doesn't have any of Andrew McCarthy's goofy charm, but loads of his goofiness. He's an idiot who was fortunate enough to look like a teen idol. And what a simian-looking teen idol he is.

Sam's eventual death is one of the tackiest things you'll ever see. And what's supposed to be melancholy is actually satisfying. Sam is nothing but a superficial, dry-voiced nympho who ditched her well-intentioned boyfriend for the snotty jock. If she was a male character, the audience would have zero sympathy. It's even more difficult to explain why Kelley gets the audience (i.e twelve year old girls) empathy. There's nothing "dreamy" about the guy. After all, he ruins a family diner, kills mice and even has the gall to steal Jasper's girlfriend. When she falls ill, he does a runner. His disappearance saddens Sam, but when he returns clutching a flower, she turns to putty. What an empty gesture that was! Sure, steal this young girl's heart, use her for sex, then when she gets sick, bail out. It's funny that he only returned when she was close to death - so he could look the knight in shining armor but not have to deal with her puking in the bin or shitting her pants. Real noble. Then, he gets to look like he actually does care by writing "Kelley <3 Sam" on Lover's Wall. As if this vain, self-centred cowfriend would grasp that concept.

The movie promises to be moving, but I was only moved to find the stop button. I questioned whether to take the movie back to the video store. "Should others be tormented by this?" I wondered. Well, considering I've watched it about ten times, I'm not sure if it really does torment me. Maybe I just happen to enjoy really shitty movies, then hide my embarrassment by making fun of them. This is thematically and dramatically one of the most ridiculous movies I've seen, but that's its charm.

"Here On Earth" tries to be as earnest as possible, attempts to be a modern-day teen version of "Love Story" crossed with "Terms of Endearment". Regrettably, it plays more like a bad fifties movie. Seriously, there are endless unintentional laughs to be had here.

"Here On Earth" is certainly a memorable, awe-inspiring movie: I remember all the howlingly funny scenes and am awed that it was conceived let alone greenlighted. Out of all teen efforts, it ranks down there with the Corey Feldmans of this world. Meaning? We'll watch it for years and find even more cause for ridicule.

When all is said and done, what is the legacy of "Here On Earth"? What mark has it made on the teen movie genre? Well:

"All I have to say is one word...SUCKS!!!!. The only reason I gave this a 2 is because Josh Hartnett was in it and he's cool. Should have beat that Klein guy's ass...stupid dumb and brainless. By the end of this movie you can't stand Klein and you really don't care what happens to Leelee. Hartnett was the only good thing about it." Dragonheart23 from (a future Roger Ebert if ever there was one)

AOL IM: paulwdfans

"Can you please tell me what Katie Holmes sees in me? Cause no human I’ve asked could come up with an answer."

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