A cheap date, not a moment too swoon

Movie: Olive Juice

Our Rating: 2.00

Remember when teen-targeted romances weren't considered "A" pictures? She's All That be damned, the best entries in the genre were always the cheap ones -- the ones whose bargain-basement production values consigned them to late-night slots on cable, where they became viewing gold for girls at slumber parties. Sometimes, s'mores were involved.

"Olive Juice" wants to be such a film. Shot in Orlando last winter by a crew of locals and visiting Las Vegans, it might as well be called "The Backstreet Movie." B-Boys Brian Littrell and A.J. McLean have cameo roles; more important, star Leighanne Wallace became Leighanne Littrell after shooting wrapped. On such momentous occurrences is middle-school P.R. built.

Littrell plays Michelle Malloy, a young woman at a gosh-darn personal crossroads. Engaged to a hunky but shifty lawyer (Michael Hartson), she finds herself falling for Keeler (James Berlau), a clean-cut fellow who owns a doggie bakery in Mount Dora. (Yes, the burg is identified on-screen.) Meanwhile, Michelle's deathly ill mother (Ginger King) worries that the impending marriage isn't the fairy tale her daughter deserves.

These are weighty matters indeed to the movie's intended audience. The plot is a bubblegum lyric come to life, with characters endlessly musing about Relationships. Goofy, nonthreatening sexual references crop up now and again to appeal to our Britney side.

It's crap with a heart, and its stars aren't half bad. Berlau has a pleasant affability that makes him something of a find. (Don't laugh; Johnny Depp cut his teeth in "Private Resort.") Littrell lacks the oomph for a lead role but improves as the film progresses. For her crucial first meeting with Keeler, director Ken Hastings hasn't reminded her to, like, look at her co-star once or twice. It doesn't help that this all-American girl is dressed like a laid-off Rachel's dancer on her way to an interview with the XFL.

Actor Jay Love does some generic jive-talking as Keeler's pal, a third-string turntablist named DJ Dan. He's more watchable than Bette Berlau (James' wife; nepotism runs through this project like a river), who plays Keeler's Gothic employee, Jodi. To simulate sarcasm, Berlau delivers her every line in a dull monotone. She's. Impossible. To. Follow.

At every opportunity, these characters let slip that they live in Orlando, that magic land the Littrells' followers have read about in fan magazines. Thanks to scenes shot at The Club at Firestone, the world now knows that we natives do a lot of gratuitous dancing. (Take that, Rich Crotty!) Backstreeter McLean appears in a puff of smoke to take over the tables as DJ Naughty, whose dialogue is limited to the fervid shout-out, "ORLANDO, baby!" Brian Littrell has a bit more to say in his role as an apprentice horse-carriage driver. Whether or not this constitutes career foreshadowing is up to you.

The movie's whirlwind production has resulted in shots that are often poorly framed: There's so much extra headroom that a good deal of the action seems to take place in a ditch. The audio dubbing is messy, and the makeup occasionally lends the actors a ghostly pallor.

These failings would be more serious had the film been intended for wide release. Instead, it's now in a limited run at United Artists' Florida Mall theater. Home-video availability is set for April 3.

In other words, "Olive Juice" is nothing more or less than it set out to be. Nobody went broke, and nobody did anything that'll be impossible to live down. Pass the s'mores.


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