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‘A Walk’ mixes corny romance, death

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A WALK TO REMEMBER — ** — Mandy Moore, Shane West, Peter Coyote, Daryl Hannah; rated PG (mild profanity, brief sex, brief violence); see the "On the Screen" column for complete listing of local theaters.

Given that the only overtly Christian movies we've seen lately have concentrated on fire-and-brimstone fear-mongering, it's sort of refreshing to watch the cornball high-school romance "A Walk to Remember."

Here's the story of an aimless guy and a self-confident preacher's daughter that provides an example to adolescent girls that abstinence can make the heart grow fonder. But then, since the movie is based on a Nicholas Sparks best seller, you know death is lurking around the corner, just waiting to spoil things.

Sparks is a writer who thrives on killing people; by the time he's done writing, he may well pile up more corpses than Stephen King. For Sparks, love means having to throw a funeral.

And, really, a funeral is the last thing that "A Walk to Remember" needs. Jamie (pop singer Mandy Moore) and Landon (Shane West) are the unlikely match made in heaven. Landon drives a fast car and hangs with the cool crowd; Jamie totes a Bible, tutors kids in her spare time and wears her hair in a ponytail that brings to mind Winnie Cooper of "The Wonder Years."

Landon finds that there's more to Jamie, though, when he's forced to tutor kids and perform the lead in the school play as part of a punishment for a stunt gone wrong. Jamie's minister father (Peter Coyote), a widower (naturally), warns: "He's dangerous," which would make sense if actor West didn't look like a teenage Matthew Perry. If this kid's dangerous, those boys from 'N Sync are, to use the (somewhat) current slang, wicked bad.

No matter. For most of its running time, "A Walk to Remember" is a sweet love story with a sprinkling of faith, perfect for parents wanting some decent fare for their pre-adolescents. But Sparks, ever the grim reaper, won't let things go at that, and the film's third act has the kids facing death, albeit with all the consternation of two teens confronting the prospect of spending an entire Saturday with their parents.

Given that, in her yearbook, Jamie listed her ambition as "to witness a miracle," we'll leave it to you to decide whether the gang will be touched by an angel. Those awaiting a real supernatural occurrence will have to wait for a Nicholas Sparks novel where death takes a holiday.

"A Walk to Remember" is rated PG for scattered use of mild profanity, some mildly sensual material and brief violence (a scuffle). Running time: 104 minutes.