Ronald Miller (Patrick Dempsey) is a bit of a nerd in this typical, though enjoyable, teen movie from the '80s. He wants a shot to become popular, and his chance comes along when he spots the lovely Cindy Mancini (Amanda Peterson) in a spot of bother. Ronald can help her out, but he negotiates a deal. He will give Cindy $1000 if she will hang out with him for a month. The two will spend a lot of time at school together, making Ronald popular by association. Cindy doesn't think that the plan will work, but she agrees to the deal. It's not long until the plan DOES start to work, better than either party could have envisioned, and it's not long until Ronald starts to be changed by his experience, abandoning the lad who used to be his best friend (Courtney Gains) in favour of a crowd that feeds the ever-inflating ego he has managed to create.
Throwing in almost every cliche in the teen movie handbook (including, damn, the slow handclap moment), Can't Buy Me Love is a film you can easily choose to hate if you can't watch in the right frame of mind. The script, by Michael Swerdlick, allows everything to play out in a way that can be predicted from the very first scene, yet it's all done with a load of positive energy and just the right amount of sweetness (not the romance stuff, I'm on about the scenes between Dempsey and Gains). Director Steve Rash doesn't do anything special when it comes to the execution of the material, but he does what's needed.
Dempsey is fun in the lead role, transforming from outcast to trendsetter convincingly enough, even if he's saddled with some of those horrendous outfits from the decade that fashion forgot. Peterson is easy to like in her role, and benefits from the fact that her character isn't entirely horrible at the start of the movie anyway - she just moves in different circles to Ronald. Gains has one of his best roles, a nerd who is happy enough to stay in the social position that he's been allocated, and it's the way he is affected by the whole situation that proves to be the most effective part of the movie. Tina Caspary and Darcy DeMoss are both enjoyable enough as, respectively, Barbara and Patty, two friends of Cindy who start to view Ronald in a different light as soon as he moves from geek to chic. Dennis Dugan and Cloyce Morrow play a decent set of parents, and a teeny tiny Seth Green is the standard, irritable young brother. His scenes are all more amusing nowadays, simply because of his teeny tiny Seth Green-ness. Erik Bruskotter, Cort McCown and a bunch of others portray the jocks who end up also warming up to Ronald, and they all do just fine.
Despite the predictability of it all, and the lack of any major sequence to lift it above and beyond the pile of many other teen movies churned out over the years, the winning performances help to make this pleasant enough. It also helps that it has a pretty fantastic soundtrack. There are some bland, standard filler tracks, but then there are tunes like the titular track, of course, "Surfin' Safari", "Secret Agent Man", "Living In A Box", "French Kissing" and "Dancin' With Myself". Keep your ears open for them.
All in all, the movie may not be one to seek out, but it's an amusing diversion. You could do worse.