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‘Aquamarine’ strictly for tween girls

Teen flick is essentially a rip off of Ron Howard’s ‘Splash’
/ Source: The Associated Press

“Aquamarine” is clearly intended for a very specific sliver of the moviegoing public: girls 10-to-13 years old, hopefully with parents who feel comfortable dropping them off at the multiplex for a matinee.

It’s painfully shrill and technically amateurish if you’re long past puberty. But “Aquamarine” does capture the all-encompassing awkwardness and angst of that age with some authenticity.

The tweens this mermaid tale targets probably won’t realize they’re essentially watching a rip-off of “Splash.” They’ll simply delight in the girlie wish fulfillment it offers: a shopping spree at the mall, a makeover, a kiss on the cheek from a cute boy and a beautiful new friend who makes everything better.

That would be Aquamarine, played with blond, blue-eyed perkiness by Sara Paxton, star of the Saturday morning TV series “Darcy’s Wild Life.” Give Paxton credit: Strikingly gorgeous as she is, she’s more than willing to look goofy for a laugh, somewhat in the vein of Goldie Hawn.

And the feature debut from director Elizabeth Allen gives her plenty of opportunities to do so. Based on the book by Alice Hoffman (“Practical Magic”), the script from John Quaintance and Jessica Bendinger finds Aqua, an 18-year-old mermaid, washing ashore during a storm and landing in the swimming pool of a small-town Florida beach club.

There she’s discovered by insecure Claire (Emma Roberts, as in daughter-of-Eric, niece-of-Julia) and tomboyish Hailey (Joanna “JoJo” Levesque, who calls to mind a younger, innocent Lindsay Lohan), 13-year-old best friends who are spending their last summer together before Hailey’s marine-biologist mom drags her off to Australia.

The film’s contrived conflict goes something like this: Aqua swam away from home to avoid the wedding arranged for her by her father (you know, Neptune). If she can prove to him in three days that true love exists, she won’t have to get married.

So she asks Claire and Hailey to help her get the generically cute lifeguard, Raymond (Jake McDorman), to fall in love with her. (The fact that she sprouts legs on dry land should, in theory, make this process easier.) And in return, she can grant the girls one wish — which, naturally, is to stay together.

Their hyperactive adventures are smothered in giggles and tinny pop music, loaded with bad fish puns and bathed in hazy sunlight.

Along the way, the girls must battle the conniving queen bee Cecilia (a convincing Arielle Kebbel), who also has the hots for Raymond, and who thinks she’s hot stuff because her dad is the local TV weatherman.

There are small, winning touches here and there: Hailey’s insistence on wearing a T-shirt over her bathing suit because she’s uncomfortable with her body; Aqua’s starfish earrings, which whisper you-go-girl compliments to whomever is wearing them.

Those are the only hushed tones you’ll hear in the movie, though; Aqua is definitely onto something when she urges Hailey and Claire to “stop shrieking like a couple of gulls.”