If I could call a moratorium on anything in movies, I think it would be all of those scenes in which a boho, white, middle-class, teenage romantic lip-synchs to a song by a black pop star, all to demonstrate that he is very down with his bad self. The granddaddy of these hit-parade grotesqueries is, of course, Jon Cryer’s scrunchy-eyed rendition of Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness” in Pretty in Pink. Nothing in the abysmal youth-market comedy Down to You is quite that unspeakable, but the film does include two lip-synch specials that are worthy of a cringe.

In the first, Julia Stiles, as a college artiste spilling over with love for her new fella (Freddie Prinze Jr., from She’s All That), announces that “a little soul is necessary in life,” and she then mimes and shimmies to a recording of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together,” looking all the while like the shiest girl in a lap-dance competition. Later, Prinze, holding up a spoon like a microphone (how fun-kay!), does similar damage to Barry White’s “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe.” If there’s anything you can say with certainty about the two agonizingly earnest lovers of Down to You, it’s that they truly deserve one another.

Prinze and Stiles spend the entire movie staring moistly at each other — that is, when they aren’t delivering dialogue that’s embarrassing in its coy and wistful hungry-heart neuroticism. Prinze, in particular, looks as if he’d spent the last five hours trying to muster a smile for a photograph he wished would just get taken already. Stiles, who was charming in her snappishness in 10 Things I Hate About You, here plays a self-serious freshman princess with so much precious conviction that you want to send her to a beer bash before she looks into the camera and confesses again.

At one point the two have a spat and apologize, and Prinze observes: “That’s when the making up feels best. And you know what comes next? The tingles!” The tingles? Actually, a line like that gives me the heebie-jeebies, and “Down to You” is stuffed with them. Making his first feature, writer-director Kris Isacsson treats the most squishy-sincere rituals of first love with a quivering sense of discovery. Obviously, it’s a discovery to him. For the audience, it’s like watching the dreckiest of teen puppy courtships trying to pass itself off as Annie Hall. La-de-blah. F

Down to You STARRING Freddie Prinze Jr. Julia Stiles MIRAMAX RATED PG-13 89 MINUTES

Down to You
  • Movie
  • 89 minutes