2 stars (out of four)
Even if you're in the mood for a mermaid movie, "Aquamarine" probably won't splash its way into your heart. Like its title heroine, it's sparkly, pretty and flirty--but often all wet. This incessantly perky teen-targeted film, in which two 13-year-old best girlfriends encounter a glamorous, seemingly teenage sea-creature in their Florida beach town pool in what may be their last summer together, is almost terminally cute.
The movie made me itchy and uncomfortable for the first 20 minutes or so, as if I were being force-fed the cotton candy that later figures in one of the many scenes of Aquamarine's comical adjustment to human customs. And though I adjusted after a while, I'm not sure that's a good thing. First-time director Elizabeth Allen keeps the rhythm so fast and the mood so frenetic that the whole over-heated effort rarely gives you a break.
The title character, taken from a novel by Alice Hoffman, is a saucy ocean-dwelling teen with upswept blue hair and fingernails that change color according to her mood. She's played in an ultra- giggly mode by Sara Paxton ( Darcy of TV's "Darcy's Wild Life"). Aqua's human guides, Claire (Emma Roberts, niece of Julia) and Hailey (Joanna "JoJo" Levesque) are slightly less giggly, though at times they too have a tendency to shriek and collapse when the guy the girls all like--hunky lifeguard Raymond (Jake McDorman)--struts by or flexes his pecs.
Raymond is the object of the mermaid's affection, a nice guy but not much of a prince. When Aqua asks him if he loves her, he responds, "No, but I think you're hot." Yet love is important here, just as it was for the Little Mermaid of Hans Christian Anderse n's story (adapted in 1989 for the Disney feature cartoon). Aqua has come ashore and grown feet to prove to her ocean-king dad that human love exists.
So, competing for Raymond with mean little Cecilia (Arielle Kebbel), guided by her 13-year-old advisors, adjusting to a world of personalized "PRINCESS" license plates and cotton candy culture and living in a local water tower (her tail comes back at night, making for many awkward moments as she tries to beat the sunset), Aquamarine often gets hysterical herself. So does the movie.
Since it was shot in Australia rather than its supposed fictional "Baybridge, Florida" location, it also looks more Down Under-ish than Floridian, especially when one of the Aussie veterans of "The Road Warrior," actor Bruce Spence, shows up as Baybridge's local character, Leonard.
I'm not averse to mermaids. But I didn't warm to this one, even though Disney's "Little Mermaid" is an old favorite of mine. Paxton and her buddies try hard--at least as hard as Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock tried in the poor 1998 movie of Hoffman's "Practical Magic"--but "Aquamarine" can't get beyond cotton candy.
Directed by Elizabeth Allen; written by John Quaintance, Jessica Bendinger, based on the novel by Alice Hoffman; photographed by Brian Breheny; edited by Jane Moran; production designed by Nelson Coates; music by David Hirschfelder; produced by Susan Cartsonis. A 20th Century Fox/Fox 2000 Pictures release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:49. MPAA rating: PG (for mild language and sensuality).
Claire - Emma Roberts
Hailey - Joanna "JoJo" Levesque
Aquamarine - Sara Paxton
Raymond - Jake McDorman
Cecilia - Arielle Kebbel
Ginny - Claudia Karvan
Leonard - Bruce Spence