Dir: John Stockwell. US. 2001. 88mins.

Despite its perky-sounding title, prominent soundtrack and sexy costumes, crazy/beautiful appears to have ambitions that are considerably bigger than those of the average teen romance. With an interracial love story at its core, the film also delves into relatively dark family drama and tries to explore the kind of racial and gender stereotypes that it might have taken for granted. The serious-minded approach feels forced at times, but does produce some effective dramatic moments. The approach could, however, prove a tough sell at the box office, particularly to teen audiences looking for more straightforward summer fun.

Kirsten Dunst stars as Nicole, the troubled daughter of a wealthy US Congressman (Davison). At high school in the upscale LA suburb of Pacific Palisades, Nicole meets Carlos (Hernandez), a handsome Latino who commutes to the school from his tough East LA neighbourhood. Nicole and best friend Maddy (Manning) are determined slackers, but Carlos is respectful of authority and driven by his ambition to become a US Navy pilot.

As their unlikely romance develops, Nicole and Carlos have to deal with the suspicions of friends and families from different ends of LA's social spectrum. Though it doesn't entirely avoid cliche, the film's portrayal of the two different worlds is sufficiently nuanced to be believable.

For its first hour, crazy/beautiful plays like a mostly conventional tale of star-crossed lovers (though in this case it's the downtown boy who is the straight arrow and the uptown girl the troublemaker). The tone only turns darker when Carlos seeks career help from Nicole's father and learns about his new girlfriend's unhappy past. The shifts in tone sometimes feel jolting, but the film's momentum is maintained by strong performances from the two leads and solid support from the adult cast (particularly Davison). Dunst's work should help the actress step up from teen comedies - like, recently, mid-level hit Bring It On and the much less successful Get Over It - to more adult roles. Hernandez, who first made his mark in teen TV series Hang Time, shows real promise and together the two stars establish serious sexy chemistry (though their love scenes are chaste by modern standards).

Actor-turned-writer/director John Stockwell (best known for cable TV movies like Cheaters) does a decent job moving the story from one emotional temperature to another. He's particularly helped by impressive colour cinematography from Shane Hurlbut.

Prod co At 17 Films, Touchstone Pictures
Dist Buena Vista Pictures Distribution
Prods Mary Jane Ufland, Harry J Ufland, Rachel Pfeffer
Exec prod Guy Riedel
Co-prod Rick Dallago
Scr Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi
Cinematography Shane Hurlbut
Prod des Maia Javan
Ed Melissa Kent
Music Paul Haslinger
Main cast Kirsten Dunst, Jay Hernandez, Bruce Davison, Lucinda Jenney, Rolando Molina, Taryn Manning