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Film review: 'Bandslam' takes itself too seriously

Published: Friday, Aug. 14 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

BANDSLAM — ★★ — Aly Michalka, Gaelan Connell, Vanessa Hudgens; rated PG (violence, slurs, vulgarity, brief drugs); in general release

For a movie that's clearly aimed at tween audiences, and one that's supposed to be a comedy, "Bandslam" takes itself a little too seriously.

While it's pretty effervescent for the first hour, things really take a dire turn toward the end. The whole thing nearly becomes undone at that point.

To be fair, at least the film is not as tween and as saccharine as some of those likeminded, made-for-the-Disney-Channel movies.

Speaking of the Disney Channel, two of its alums are in the cast. Aly Michalka ("Phil of the Future") stars as Charlotte, a once-popular New Jersey high school student.

For unexplained reasons, Charlotte has quit cheerleading and has broken up with school hunk Ben (Scott Porter, who looks his age, a good decade too old to be playing this role).

And most recently, she's befriended a new kid in town, the musically knowledgeable but unpopular Will (Gaelan Connell).

In fact, she's so in awe of Will that she's asked him to become the manager for her new group — a musical endeavor with which Charlotte hopes to win the amateur "Bandslam" competition.

Another, fresher subplot concerns Will's friendship — and burgeoning romance — with his introverted classmate, Sa5m (Vanessa Hudgens, from the "High School Musical" movies).

"Bandslam's" grasp on musicology isn't as solid as co-screenwriter/director Todd Graff would lead you to believe (especially when it comes to Caribbean and Jamaican music styles).

And oddly, Shia LaBeouf look-alike Connell either stands around slack-jawed or has the expression of someone who stepped in something unpleasant.

Luckily, his female co-stars are around to pick up some of the slack. Michalka and Hudgens are pretty likable.

Also, Lisa Kudrow plays Will's patient and understanding mother. She's the most sympathetic, most fleshed-out person in this ensemble.

It's best to leave the film's music alone — suffice to say, it includes yet another noxious attempt at covering Cheap Trick's "I Want You to Want Me" and a ska-flavored take on Bread's "Everything I Own".

"Bandslam" is rated PG and features some mild violent content (including bullying), derogatory language and slurs, some suggestive talk, and some brief over-the-counter drug references (antacids and pain relievers). Running time: 111 minutes.

e-mail: jeff@desnews.com

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