Like many films about wholly misguided love affairs, consuming obsession, and criminal activity involving elephants, ‘Endless Love’ opens with a vaguely creepy voiceover. Apparently meant to be styled as the opening lines to some kind of modern fairy tale, David Elliot (Alex Pettyfer) uses the first few moments of Shana Feste’s adaptation to introduce us his very own tower-bound princess, young Jade Butterfield (Gabrielle Wilde), a sensitive enough soul entombed in our own grief (or something like that, it’s hard to tell over Pettyfer’s creepy staring). Set at the pair’s high school graduation, David and the camera both spy on Jade as he vows to do, well, something to get to know her. Charming.

Despite its title, film bears little resemblance to its source material, and only scattered details have been plucked from both the 1981 Franco Zeffirelli film and the 1979 Scott Spencer book – including character names, the destructive power of hormones, a lingering weirdness with Jade’s mother, and explosive fire (no, no, not of the hormonal variety). Surprisingly sanitized despite a hefty number of perfume commercial-styled love scenes, ‘Endless Love’ keeps most of the darkness of the novel and first film at bay, resulting in a throwaway romance that’s only memorable because of how tremendously and laughably bad it is.

'Endless Love' is endlessly embarrassing, unnervingly bad, cringe cinema.

Whereas the original film imagined the Butterfields as free spirits and David as a preppy kid from a wealthy family, Feste’s film flips the script – these bookish Butterfields are profoundly straight-laced (and profoundly wealthy, apparently) and David is from a broken blue-collar home, and his only interests seem to include partying and cars (you know, like any teen boy). Both devastated by and sequestered after her beloved older brother’s death when she was just a sophomore in high school, Jade has spent the remainder of high school studying and hanging out with her parents. It’s certainly a sad story, and, man, does Dead Brother Chris hang over the Butterfield house, but it’s also hard to swallow – did Jade not have friends before? Did no one think to go out of his or her way to be kind to the heartbroken teen? Did no other guy notice that Jade is, to put it mildly, wildly gorgeous? – and instead, we’re forced to believe that Jade has been left alone for two years and is simply bursting for some human contact.

And, yes, she gets it.

Enthralled by David’s wild manner and bad haircut, Jade falls fast for her new beau, despite lingering concerns from her family, especially her overbearing dad Hugh (Bruce Greenwood). Hugh’s wariness is well-founded, because all it takes for Jade to abandon her innocence is precisely one joyride in a filched Maserati, one party crashed by surly teens putting on dance routines (yes), and one truly terrible family dinner. Jade, for all her inhibition and inexperience, beds David in her family home – in an open-doored library with a roaring fire and her family sleeping nearby, making it clear early on that almost nothing about their love story will scan as believable, even as it is wildly and bizarrely amusing to watch. While neither Pettyfer nor Wilde look convincingly like teens (both actors are in their mid-twenties), Wilde does manage to intermittently nail the coltish innocence of Jade.

As over the top as ‘Endless Love’ is (and, goodness, is this thing over the top), Feste occasionally hits on real emotion and believable reactions – it’s just all obscured by a choking hormonal haze and a dizzying series of increasingly terrible decisions. Hugh’s desire to protect his daughter is entirely understandable given their background, but Feste and Joshua Safran’s script insists on turning his concern into a version of villainy, while also folding in a subplot that makes him look like a real bastard (and, yes, he is a real bastard, but it ultimately has zero to do with his feelings about Jade and David). Similarly, Jade, consumed by her love for David (and, again, the hormones, good God, the hormones) decides to skip out on an internship that is essential to her future career as a doctor just to spend the summer with her new boyfriend.

Make no mistake, ‘Endless Love’ is not a good film, but that doesn’t keep it from being compulsively watchable and deeply (if not accidentally) entertaining. The film is peppered with hammy, head-thumping visual cues (Jade lives in a literally gated house! She is gated up! Free her, David!) and a series of instantly quotable one-liners (few people will be able to resist the charm of David’s father Harry, played by Robert Patrick, screaming at Hugh about the legality of breaking into a zoo). Distilled down to its most basic elements, ‘Endless Love’ is about the battle between mature love and first love, which isn’t a bad thing to form a film around - in its execution, however, ‘Endless Love’ is endlessly embarrassing, unnervingly bad cringe cinema that seems destined to become a new wave cult classic (read: audiences will enjoy laughing at it for many, many years to come).


'Endless Love' opens in theaters on February 14.