By ALESSANDRA STANLEY
No need for Wuthering. It is just "the Heights."
In the MTV version of Emily Brontë's novel tomorrow night, the wild moors have been dropped for the cool California coast, and the patriarch is Earnshaw, a counterculture dropout. The heroine is called Cate and her older brother,
In short, the idea behind MTV's version of "Wuthering Heights" is perfect. Sadly, however, the execution does not quite live up to the summary. As "Clueless," the 1995 movie adaption of Jane Austen's "Emma," proved conclusively, writers can take as much liberty as they please with a classic as long as they remain faithful to the spirit of the work.
This version tries too hard to follow the original plot, but turns the legendary romance into Lovers Lite.
Hollywood has made some very smart movies by dumbing down the classics. Besides "Clueless," the 1999 movie "10 Things I Hate About You," a high-school version of "Taming of the Shrew" starring Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles, was deliciously inventive. Even Ethan Hawke's "Hamlet," set in the modern world the Denmark Corporation, was clever.
"Wuthering Heights" has its moments, especially when jump-cutting scenes of Heath's rise from squatter to rock star. Most of the songs were written for the film by Jim Steinman, a veteran pop composer whose oeuvre includes Meatloaf's "Bat Out of Hell."
Teenage girls may get a kick out of it, but for a broader audience it could and should have been better. Brontë's Catherine and Heathcliff were willful, tempestuous and not particularly likable.
Played by Erika Christensen ("Traffic"), Cate is sweet and passive, while the Heath of Mike Vogel ("Grounded for Life") is more whiny than wild. Isabel, played by Katherine Heigl ("Roswell") steals the movie as a sexy, scheming
The casting is a problem. Both Ms. Christensen and Mr. Vogel are blond, well fed and even beefy — they look less like tormented lovers than evidence that European fears about American genetically modified foods may not be entirely groundless.
Mr. Vogel's bland surfer looks make it all the harder for him to convincingly play a brutish lowlife who embarrasses Cate when she is with the rich, sophisticated Lintons. In scruffy hair and faded jeans, he looks as if he belongs there more than she does. A more nuanced actor with a more smoldering, ethnic look would have been more persuasive.
Still, even Emily Brontë would not disagree with one of the lyrics that make Heath a rock superstar: "Maybe you're better off dead."