If you’ve seen many films at all these past few years, Lucas may seem familiar. Painfully familiar. It’s the story of a fourteen-year-old nerd falling in love for the first time. Dramatists have been working up variations on this theme since long before Romeo ogled Juliet, but there have been few recent improvements in the time-honored tale of boy-meets-girl.

Watch Lucas (1986) trailer:

If Lucas is not an improvement on that hackneyed plot (and it isn’t), it does at least manage to salvage some of the respectability lost at the hands of teen sexploitation flicks.

Corey Haim (who had a small role in the much better film, Murphy’s Romance) plays Lucas Blye, the genius wimp beset with his first major heart-breaking crush. Sixteen-year-old Maggie, the crushee and new-girl-in-town, is played by Kerri Green (The Goonies, Summer Rental). Charlie Sheen is Cappie Roew, a stud football jock who befriends Lucas and steals Maggie from him, thus completing the adolescent love triangle.

Haim is very good as the bug-loving, book-toting outsider who, ashamed of his family, lies about his parents and considers all jocks and cheerleaders “superficial.” And when Maggie tries out for the cheerleading squad, Lucas is obviously stunned and resentful.

It is here that the movie makes an about-face, losing its original light-hearted appeal and sinking into a mire of hypocrisy. After establishing an admirable rapport between its young protagonist and the audience, Lucas breaks the audience’s trust. Up to this point we have been led to believe that Lucas is so depressed about Maggie dating Cappie that he seriously considers killing himself. Then one of Lucas’ friends storms into the school’s band room, in a state of shock and disbelief, with alarming news: “Hey, did you hear about Lucas? It’s suicide!…He’s going out for the football team.”

That’s cheating your audience in the worst possible way. After an hour of pleasant entertainment, this movie becomes nearly unwatchable. Lucas goes against everything he’s ever believed about the superficiality of high school athletics and the selfish upper strata of adolescent social circles, and decides to prove he’s a Real Man by donning a helmet and jersey that are about four sizes too big so that he can once and for all prove himself on the gridiron.

If the movie had striven to show that even superficial jocks and cheerleaders are people too, it may well have redeemed itself. But that’s not the message here. The message in Lucas has more to do with selling out for the sake of love than with bridging artificial chasms between the social classes.

The man responsible for this unfortunate turn of events is veteran screenwriter David Seltzer, who herein makes a decidedly uneven directorial debut. Seltzer, known for scripting ten-hanky films like Six Weeks and Table for Five, mercifully keeps the bathos to a minimum here, and does manage to offer a script with at least a modicum of intelligence and wit. Though Lucas is certainly a cut above most teen movies, it proves to be something of a mixed blessing.