By Rene Rodriguez, The Miami Herald
The perky, hollow Bandslam is the latest in a long line of movies that steal liberally from the John Hughes playbook of high-school comedies but lack the heart and insight Hughes invested in his pictures.
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The fact that a lot of people have been rewatching The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink since Hughes died unexpectedly last week won’t help Bandslam, a movie even tweens will find trite and old hat. Actor-turned-director Todd Graff (who ran around with the pet mouse in The Abyss) fails to repeat the achievement of his 2003 filmmaking debut Camp, in which he enlivened a rote and formulaic premise with personality and wit.
Bandslam, which Graff co-wrote with Josh A. Cagan, feels uncommonly schematic, as if the movie had been conceived with a check list of high-school clichés in hand. You get the likably nerdy, self-effacing protagonist, Will (Gaelan Connell), the new kid in school; the pretty, quiet girl (Vanessa Hudgens) with a cool quirk (she likes writing her name using a silent number, Sa5m, which must drive her teachers nuts), and the popular blonde bombshell, Charlotte (Aly Michalka), whom all the boys love.
The music-savvy Will becomes tight with Charlotte and starts unofficially managing her band. He also successfully courts Sa5m with surprising speed, his personality having overcome his dweeby looks.
Interspersed throughout are generic but lively musical numbers by Charlotte’s band and others designed to appeal to the Jonas Brothers/Hannah Montana crowd. Everything in Bandslam, in fact, feels calculated to fill a niche, including Lisa Kudrow’s turn as Will’s amusingly eccentric mother, who is thrown in to give parental guardians something to help pass the time.
The performances in Bandslam are uniformly strong — good enough to make you wish this bunch of charismatic, talented kids had been given better material. Graff makes the odd decision to give his adolescent characters adult problems — Will wrestles with the consequences of his father’s drunk driving, while one of his friends must face the death of a parent — a hint at the filmmakers’ lack of understanding of the insular world of contemporary teens.
Bandslam does include lots of shots of kids texting on their cellphones and filming videos to post on YouTube. But during a scene in which Will inexplicably forgets his date with Sa5m — even though they’ve just started seeing each other, and he considers her to be “the coolest person on the planet” — neither thinks to call the other in order to remedy the situation quickly and peacefully. How convenient.
Cast: Gaelan Connell, Aly Michalka, Vanessa Hudgens, Scott Porter, Ryan Donowho, Charlie Saxton, Lisa Kudrow.
Director: Todd Graff.
Screenwriters: Josh A. Cagan, Todd Graff.
Producer: Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas.
A Summit Entertainment release. Running time: 115 minutes. Mild vulgar language. Playing at area theaters.