If there's one basic lesson reinforced by A Walk To Remember, a noxiously wholesome vehicle for second-tier teen pop star Mandy Moore, it's that film is an inherently sinful medium, driven by voyeurism, lust, and violently clashing emotions. Christian piety may have its place in cinema, but generally only when the forces of righteousness, like Lillian Gish in The Night Of The Hunter or Emily Watson in Breaking The Waves, are countered equally by the forces of evil. Based on the Nicholas Sparks novel, A Walk To Remember is basically a prim, desexualized Carrie, told from the prom date's perspective and featuring Peter Coyote in the Piper Laurie role. With her face frozen by the creepy serenity of the saved, Moore stars as a virginal choirgirl who wears frumpy sweaters and floor-length patterned skirts, drives an Oldsmobile, and still drinks out of juice boxes. Ostracized by her peers, she spots a redeemable soul in Shane West, a sullen classmate who hangs out with The Wrong Crowd, in this case a group of hard-partying popular kids that includes the only black person in town and two young harlots with exposed midriffs. As punishment for participating in a gang initiation that lands another teen in the hospital, West gets assigned the lead role in a school musical opposite Moore, who transforms into a beautiful songstress in time for opening night. From there, she romances the newly reformed West over the objections of her father the reverend (Coyote). But he has no reason to worry: Having successfully neutralized both of their raging hormones, Moore is in complete control, so much so that the entire universe bends to her will. Of course, such an ethereal creature could never submit to pleasures of the flesh, so the plot coughs up one spectacularly lame excuse for getting out of sex. Director Adam Shankman (The Wedding Planner) updates Sparks' novel from 1958 to the present, but outside of the synergistic music cues and modern automobiles, the setting is an anachronism, presenting small-town life as it once existed in Joshua Logan's Picnic. (What teen today would pack two separate blankets for stargazing?) Like TV's Seventh Heaven, another show about God from AOL-Time Warner, A Walk To Remember would be perfectly harmless were it not so blithely unaware of its racial and sexual politics. With the angelic Moore dictating its whitewashed world, the film implies a position of moral authority that clouds the other characters in shame. At the lowest point, West's black friend brings over a copy of Missy Elliott's "Get Ur Freak On"; the hero immediately dismisses it as "Soul Train" and pops in a borrowed Jars Of Clay CD. Is this really the path to righteousness?
More from The A.V. Club