Mike Terry, Deseret News
Dancers perform in the Provo Towne Centre during filming of the show in February.

"The American Mall" proves one thing beyond a shadow of a doubt: Making "High School Musical" was not as easy as it might have appeared.

The TV-movie musical (10 p.m., MTV) — a not-even-vaguely subtle rip-off of "HSM" — is awful. The story is unoriginal in the extreme; the characters are caricatures; the direction is uninspired; the choreography and dancing are lame; and the acting is more cartoon-like than most, well, cartoons.

There are some catchy tunes and some decent vocals, but that's about it.

"Mall" has the smell of a movie made on the cheap and on the quick. Like MTV execs noticed all the money Disney raked in from "High School Musical" and said, "Hey, we can do that!"

Well, no, it's not that easy. Not even when you hire a few of the folks who helped make "HSM" magic, like executive producers Barry Rosenbush and Bill Borden, choreographer Bonnie Story and composer David Lawrence.

They'll want to take this one off their resumes as quickly as possible.

And bringing the production to Utah didn't help re-create any "High School Musical" magic. As a matter of fact, shooting entirely inside the Provo Towne Centre gives the production an oddly claustrophobic feel.

Troy, Gabriella and Sharpay aren't in "Mall," just their doppelgangers. The story (such as it is) involves nice girl Ally (Nina Dobrev of "DeGrassi: The Next Generation") and nice boy Joey (Rob Mayes), whose path to romance is complicated by mean girl Madison (Autumn Reeser of "The O.C."). Rich, pampered Madison not only wants to keep Ally and Joey apart by offering Joey the world, but she wants to put the music store Ally's mother owns out of business.

And there's lots of singing and dancing.

Story has proved herself in other projects, but in "The American Mall" she's limited by the limitations of her cast. Or a lack of rehearsal time. Or both. The choreography is simple and uninspired. And even at that, the dance performances range from adequate to dreadful.

You'd think that the dancers might be in sync once or twice if only inadvertently.

Director Shawn Ku does what he can, employing a variety of split screens in an attempt to create energy where there isn't any. But he's limited by Margaret Oberman's script (from a story by Tomas Romero and P.J. Hogan) and a cast that delivers performances that are so wooden this should have been "The American Lumber Yard."

Given its mix of music and tawdry reality shows, the wholesome "American Mall" seems entirely out of place on MTV — it would have seemed more appropriate on Nickelodeon.

And, essentially, MTV's airing nothing but advertisements for the DVD and soundtrack releases. And those — surprise! — are scheduled for Tuesday, mere hours after it debuts on MTV.

It's difficult to imagine anyone wasting their money buying "The American Mall" after they've been "American Mauled," but that's what MTV is counting on. Frankly, that's insulting to the intended audience — a statement that they're too dumb to know an inferior product when they see it.

Save your money to buy tickets for "High School Musical 3" when it opens in October. And, in the meantime, haul out your DVDs of "HSM" and "HSM2."

Why settle for a pale imitation instead of the original?


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