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California girl Kirsten Dunst is surrounded by temptation in 'crazy/beautiful'

Friday, June 29, 2001

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Nicole Oakley figures, "I'm 17. I'm supposed to get out of control." And get out of control she does. As the teen romance "crazy/beautiful" opens, Nicole (Kirsten Dunst) is spearing trash on the beach, part of her penance for getting stopped for DUI. She's under the influence, or "wasted" as she calls it, a good bit of the time. She and her best friend Maddy (Taryn Manning) never met a speed limit they could observe, and they consider a bathroom hall pass a license to slip outside, socialize and surreptitiously drink.


Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic material involving teens, drug/alcohol content, sexuality and language.

Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Jay Hernandez

Director: John Stockwell

Critic's call: 2 1/2 stars


Carlos Nunez (Jay Hernandez), a teen-ager Nicole meets on the beach, doesn't have time to get wasted.

He may attend the same high school as Nicole in Pacific Palisades, Calif., but he lives in East Los Angeles and starts his two-hour commute at 5:43 a.m. He's a good student and starting football player who has his sights set on attending the U.S. Naval Academy.

He lives with his hard-working mother -- his father returned to Mexico when Carlos was a boy -- while she resides with her congressman father (Bruce Davison), his affluent second wife and their precious preschool daughter in a glass-walled hilltop mansion. As in the recent "Save the Last Dance," which focused on a motherless blonde living with her father and an African-American teen who aspired to become a doctor, this couple faces more than the usual romantic hurdles.

Some of them come from the usual places, as Nicole endures heated words from a Latina girl at school and feels terribly out of place at a party at Carlos' house. Some come from unexpected sources, which serve to drive the expected wedge between the two, leaving open the question of whether the relationship -- or a shattered Nicole -- can survive.

"Crazy/beautiful," which takes its title from a couple of lines of dialogue in which he calls her crazy and she calls him beautiful, is notable for Dunst's once again remarkable performance. The 19-year-old actress, whose breakthrough role was in "Interview with the Vampire," can summon vulnerability, teen-age abandon, flirtatiousness and wrenching pain like few others her age. She has a remarkably expressive face, able to easily shift from inquisitive to crestfallen in a flash.

Dunst also has the better written of the starring roles, tilting the scale her way. Hernandez, whose first acting role was in NBC's "Hang Time," isn't quite as accomplished, although he certainly is a capable and handsome leading man. He gets the short straw when it comes to the show-stopping scenes, though.

"Crazy/beautiful," directed by John Stockwell and written by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, pushes the limits of its PG-13 rating with its sex scenes (although the responsible Carlos insists on a condom), underage drinking and reckless behavior. Of course these teens live in Los Angeles, which is like being 20 years old anywhere else.

Still, "crazy/beautiful" isn't made for adults, it's made for teen-agers who will soak up the soundtrack with such songs as Seven Mary Three's "Wait," identify with the broken families, the demands imposed on them by adults and the pull of young, fierce love. They can't see beyond the next hour, let alone the next week, most of the time.

In the end, everyone does the right thing. This enlightenment is a little quick in coming, but the words smart and sympathetic are finally added to crazy and beautiful.

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