XX 1/2 "Calendar Girl," with Jason Priestley, Gabriel Olds, Jerry O'Connell, Joe Pantoliano. Directed by John Whitesell, from a script by Paul W. Shapiro. Aurora, Bay, Everett Mall, Grand Cinemas Alderwood, Newmark, Metro, SeaTac Mall, Totem Lake. "PG-13" - Parental guidance advised because of language, nude-beach sequence. -------------------------------------------------------------------
Sweet and airy and pleasantly nostalgic, Jason Priestley's first starring vehicle is cotton-candy entertainment for summer's end.
There's hardly any substance to it, and at times it threatens to melt into a wad of goo, but there's an odd, wistful authenticity to the movie that keeps it from congealing. Even at its most inane, it seems genuine.
At the very least, "Calendar Girl" is an improvement on the big-screen outings of Priestley's "Beverly Hills, 90210" co-star, Luke Perry, who never seemed as comfortable as Priestley does here. It helps that he has a juicy role.
In this coming-of-age comedy, set in 1962, Priestley is Roy Darpinian, the kind of irrepressible, determined Nevada teenager who, in the words of Ned Bleuer, his grateful but timid best friend, "pushed you into life" by demonstrating that "nothing ever happens if you don't show up."
We first meet Roy as a child in the 1950s, at a Howdy Doody lookalike contest where he's already drawing plenty of attention with his precocious chutzpah. By the time the movie's over, Roy has "borrowed" his father's car and a thousand dollars, talked Ned into running off to Hollywood to meet Marilyn Monroe, and enlisted in the army.
Although it's the best part in the movie, it's not quite the leading role. That goes to Ned (played by Gabriel Olds), who narrates the story of how they fared in Hollywood, where they and another childhood pal, Scott Foreman (Jerry O'Connell), pester Monroe's housekeeper, follow the star to a nude beach and make themselves sufficiently outrageous to get her attention.
As written, Roy isn't exactly Zorba the Greek, but he has the same life-embracing qualities, and Priestley makes the most of them, instantly yet not ostentatiously distancing himself from the white-bread Brandon he plays on "90210." This is a character role, and he treats it that way.
Under the direction of Emmy-winning TV veteran John Whitesell ("Law & Order"), the nostalgic aspects of the story are amusingly drawn out rather than forced into the open, and the actors form a natural ensemble. Making his film debut, Olds provides a strong focus, while O'Connell, who was one of the kids in "Stand by Me," does the comic-relief bit without turning it into schtick.
What holds "Calendar Girl" back is a script by Paul W. Shapiro ("Outrageous Fortune," "Breaking the Rules") that never goes far enough. In the end, it seems little more than an anecdote, a stunt - a story that might just as easily have been told on one of those 1950s sitcoms in which celebrities made guest appearances so the series' stars could fawn over them.