| March 8, 2006

Directed by first-time feature helmer Elizabeth Allen, “Aquamarine” is a live action “Little Mermaid” presumably geared for the more sophisticated, Lindsay Lohan-worshiping pre-teen girls of today. The film is so technically slapdash and unabashedly fluffy, however, that there’s hardly anything for even this forgiving audience to sink their teeth into.
As the movie opens, best friends Hailey and Claire (JoJo and Julia’s niece Emma Roberts, respectively) are spending their last days of their last Florida summer together before Hailey and her mom move to Australia. During a storm, in what is the first of several odd parallels to “The Witches of Eastwick,” the two girls wish for a miracle that will keep them together in Florida. The next morning, they wake to find that a giggly mermaid named Aquamarine has been tossed from the ocean into Claire’s backyard pool. As it turns out, Aquamarine has “swum away from home” to find love, a concept which doesn’t exist in her world (mermaids think love is a myth). Per mermaid rules, she’s allowed three days of legs to seek her love on land, and if she doesn’t get someone to tell her they love her, she must return to the sea.
Aquamarine doesn’t have to look very hard–she sets her sights on the first available, studly lifeguard she sees, Raymond (Bruce Spence), and immediately decides the two of them are meant to be together. When Claire and Hailey find out that anyone who helps a mermaid gets a wish, they realize their wish for a miracle to keep them together has possibly come true–as long as they can get Raymond to fall for Aquamarine within three days. The two girls go “Clueless” on Aqua, giving her a makeover and teaching her all the knowledge they’ve amassed from their pantheon of YMs and Seventeens. As it turns out, Aqua may have chosen her man well–the two vapid young beauties hit it off, and Claire and Hailey seem well on their way to their wish. The snag comes when the local meanie, Cecilia (Arielle Kibbel), also crushing on Raymond, sets her sights on destroying Aquamarine’s new romance. Our three heroes have their work cut out for them if they want to quash the evil Cecilia and win Raymond’s heart. Ultimately, over the course of their efforts, all three girls are forced to reconcile with the concepts of home and family, and to make some tough decisions about where and with whom they belong.
Though the film takes a sentimental–and not entirely ineffective–turn in the final act, the rest of the movie’s pithy beach-party-for-beautiful-young-white-people feel ultimately undermines any sweetness or message the movie may be trying to deliver. The script is so ridiculously contrived and the dialogue is often so painfully awkward (I know I’m not hip to 12 year old lingo, but somehow I doubt that “dim-sighted” is an effective comeback) that the poor young actors wouldn’t stand a chance with or without talent. Writers John Quaintance (“Joey,” “Good Morning, Miami”) and Jessica Bendinger (“Stick It,” “Bring It On”) seem tonally at odds–if I were a betting woman I’d guess that the filmmakers brought in the tweener-hip expertise of Bendinger to counteract the sitcom tone of Quaintance. Between the two of them, they still can’t seem to figure out whose film it is–Aquamarine’s or the two best friends’–and as such there’s a constant push-pull to the storytelling that gives a scattered effect.
The technical elements of the film are equally uninspired–Allen’s directing is an unfortunate disappointment after her impressive short, “Eyeball Eddie.” The film has the look of a hurried, low-budget studio crumb. In the climactic scene at sea at the end of the film, for instance, you can just picture the jumbo fans whirring away at the studio water tank. And how is it that in the age of effects masterpieces like “King Kong” and “Narnia” that a movie mermaid looks half as realistic as Daryl Hannah did over 20 years ago in “Splash?”
“Aquamarine” mines from some worthy sources, and one does get the sense that there’s something in marrying “The Little Mermaid” to “Witches of Eastwick” for tweener girls that’s worth exploring–but it never clicked here for Quaintance and Bendinger. Rather than taking two threads and weaving them together into something whole and new, “Aquamarine” just slaps them together and hopes they’ll stick. It’s lazy filmmaking that will no doubt enjoy a long and lonely shelf life at your local DVD store.

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