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FISH TALE 'AQUAMARINE' COULD REEL IN THE TWEENER AUDIENCE.

Byline: Glenn Whipp Film Critic

THE MAKERS of the fish-out-of-water ode to friendship ``Aquamarine'' know what young girls want, namely (roughly in order of importance): a friend-forever kind of best friend, cute boys to ogle, clothes, dolphins, a friend-forever in mermaid form, $400 shopping trips to the mall, talking starfish and a tall stack of CosmoGIRL! magazines on the nightstand.

It's a pretty complete list (OK, there are no unicorns or rainbows, but that's for the little sisters in the audience, who, truth be known, just might enjoy ``Aquamarine'' more than their older siblings), and first-time director Elizabeth Allen acquits herself nicely in delivering the goods without overtly pandering. ``Aquamarine'' demands little of its audience, but it doesn't demean it, either, which in this day and age is something worth noting.

The movie follows two 13-year-old best friends, Hailey (Joanna ``JoJo'' Levesque) and Claire (Emma Roberts, Julia's niece). They spend their days in an idyllic summer Florida beach town mainly perfecting their degrees in ``Rayology,'' which entails studying the every move of 18-year-old lifeguard and Kato Kaelin protege Raymond Calder (Jake McDorman).

All good things must pass, though, and Hailey will soon be moving with her mom halfway across the world to Australia. Unless ... well, mermaid Aquamarine (Heather Graham protege Sara Paxton) has just washed ashore, fleeing a marriage arranged by her father (Neptune, not Triton). If the girls can help Aquamarine find true love in three days (paging ``Rrrrraymond''), then the mermaid will grant them a wish and Hailey won't have to live with the dingoes and wombats.

Hailey and Claire are supposed to be outcasts, but this being Hollywood, the young women playing the roles are pop singing sensations and not freaks and geeks. (Eminem, creepily enough, even lauded Levesque's backside in a recent song.) But if the girls seem a bit too Disney Channel cute, the movie - adapted very loosely from Alice Hoffman's novel - at least has them giving the trashy Paris Hilton types (Arielle Kebbel is perfectly obnoxious - in a good way - as the ringleader) their comeuppance.

As for the mermaid, Aquamarine finds love, just not in the way she expected, which, given the ages of the girls in the movie and the audience, seems like a good call. Claire and Hailey may enjoy furtively gazing at their bronze hunk, but, ultimately, still get more kicks in the safety of the other's company, preferably in the comforting confines of their native environment - the indoor mall.

Glenn Whipp, (818) 713-3672

glenn.whipp(at)dailynews.com

AQUAMARINE - Two and one half stars

(PG: mild language and sensuality)

Starring: Joanna ``JoJo'' Levesque, Emma Roberts, Sara Paxton.

Director: Elizabeth Allen.

Running time: 1 hr. 49 min.

Playing: In wide release.

In a nutshell: Undemanding friends-forever movie for the tweener set.

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo:

Pals Claire (Emma Roberts, left) and Hailey (Joanna ``JoJo'' Levesque) encounter a mermaid (Sara Paxton) in a pool in ``Aquamarine.''
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 3, 2006
Words:484
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