“Friday Night Lights’” Zach Gilford has been making incremental progress in his effort to jump from the small screen to the big, starting (more or less) with last year’s fairly terrible Post-Grad opposite Alexis Bledel. My guess is that he’s also trying to shed his stammering Cusackian persona, too. In Adam Salky’s tepid Dare (out on DVD today), Gilford plays Johnny, a high-school bad boy who gets caught in a love triangle with one male and one female classmate.
Emmy Rossum (The Day After Tomorrow, Poseidon) has her own child-actor reputation to work off, too. In Dare, she plays Alexa, a nerdy drama student with virginity to spare, who — after a brief conversation with a real actor (a one-scene turn from Alan Cumming, which is the highlight of the movie) — decides to undergo her own She’s All That fuck-me-boot-girl transformation, achieving her ultimate Blanche DuBoisian goal by allowing Johnny to trespass into her womanhood.
Meanwhile, her best friend, a misfit geek by the name of Ben (Ashley Springer) attempts to break out of his closet by also making advances on Johnny, and by advances, I mean: Go down on him at a swimming pool. Complications ensue when the friendships at the center of the love triangle crumble and bad-boy Johnny realizes he doesn’t really want to be a bad boy — he just wants a mommy and someone to love him.
Dare is ostensibly about high-school identity and and social anxiety, but if feels more like three interrelated episodes of “Extreme Makeover: Personality Edition” strung together to make an all too obvious point: All the cosmetics and threesomes in the world won’t change your essence. Dare is actually well-intentioned, and has some good points to make — that we’re not defined by our type — it just fails to make them well. It falters under stilted dialogue, icky “Afterschool Special” sexuality, and bland direction. Still, while Gilford doesn’t exactly shed that Cusackian image, he’s the bright spot in the film, displaying considerable range and getting to that soft sensitive spot at the center of the bad-boy caricature. He can’t save Dare, but he might just salvage his post-“FNL” career.
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