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2 reviews, 1 rating

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by Peter Sobczynski

"Faux-Rebel Rebels"
3 stars

Right from the start, it is clearly evident that “Bandslam” is a film that is trying to position itself as a version of “High School Musical” for kids who are far too hip and cool to ever be caught watching either that blockbuster or its equally successful sequels. In theory, this is an interesting idea but it tries so hard to insist its hipness and edginess upon us, especially when it becomes painfully obvious that it doesn’t really have anything new to say or any fresh ways of saying them, that it kind of grows monotonous and irritating after a while--watching this film is about as cutting edge as buying a Clash T-shirt at Wal-Mart. And yet, while it doesn’t work as a whole, there are enough bits that do to help keep it from completely transforming into disposable exploitation junk, though not enough to compel anyone over the age of 16 to rush out and actually pay money to see it.

Newcomer Gaelan Connell plays Will, a curly-haired high-school geek with a dark secret, an encyclopedic knowledge of the history of rock music and no friends outside of his iPod, though he does maintain a one-way e-mail correspondence with David Bowie that is utilized as a narrative frame throughout the film. As the film opens, he and his loving-but-clinging mom (Lisa Kudrow) move to suburban New Jersey to begin a new life and when he arrives for his first day at Van Buren High, he discovers that the entire school is obsessed with Bandslam, a tri-battle of the bands that lands the winner a recording contract. Almost instantly, Will finds himself bonding with two of his female classmate. One is Sa5m (Vanessa Hudgens), a shy and retiring bookworm with a dark secret (and no, it isn’t that she was apparently fathered by a David Fincher film) with whom he is paired with for a social studies assignment on getting to know other people. The other is Charlotte (Aly Michalka), an ex-cheerleader senior with a dark secret who recognizes Will’s knowledge of music and enlists him to help her band win Bandslam and, more importantly, defeat the band led by her ex-boyfriend that she used to belong to until she underwent a total personality change a year earlier. Will bounces back and forth between the two--bringing Sa5m out of her shell and helping Charlotte’s band come together by augmenting it with strings and horns--and everything seems swell for a while until all those aforementioned secrets surface and inspire a number of setbacks that can only be resolved, you guessed it, on stage at Bandslam in a finale in which revelations are made, songs are spun out of thin air at the last second and everyone more or less gets exactly what they deserve.

In other words, “Bandslam” is pretty much just like every other teen-oriented let’s-put-on-a-show musical melodrama that you have seen and while director Todd Graff (whose previous film, “Camp,” also dealt with kids and the performing arts) seems to think that he is transcending the genre with something grittier and more realistic, it is kind of hard to process that approach with a straight face when the sullen emo girl is played by the heroine of “High School Musical” herself and her rival also comes straight from the Disney starlet factory as well. It starts out on an okay note and moves along reasonably well for the first hour but in the second half, the clichés begin to take over big time and by the time of the big Bandslam finale, there are so many cathartic moments happening that it is almost impossible to keep track of them. Speaking of Bandslam, the film introduces it as a school wide obsession and then does nothing with it until the finale--we never learn if there are any other bands competing for a slot or even how they get into the final lineup. Perhaps that is just as well because when we hear the sludgy teen-pop drivel played by the various contestants, it is painfully obvious that they only made it because the screenplay said so because those tunes would be hooted out of the lowest-rent amateur night in Albuquerque. You would think that a movie celebrating the power of music would climax with songs that didn’t sound like outtakes from Jabberjaw’s band but sadly, you would be wrong in this case.

However, while I can’t really recommend “Bandslam” to anyone other than a gaggle of 12-year-old girls planning a slumber party, I have to grudgingly admit that there were a few elements that I did like. While the new songs are pretty awful, Graff has spiked his soundtrack with some well-chosen oldies that will hopefully spark some interest among younger viewers. I liked the scene where Charlotte tries to educate Will on music by playing a Velvet Underground CD and he tells her that if she wanted to do that, she should have picked a better one. I liked the scene where Will takes Sa5m (and if you think reading that name is irritating, try writing it sometime) on a sojourn to New York that climaxes with a pilgrimage to the legendary club CBGB’s. I liked the moment when the oddball cellist (Elvy Yost) has her instrument knocked down and protests that “It’s not like it’s a viola!” I liked the part when the evil ex-boyfriend of Charlotte orders his sidekicks to dig up all the information that they can on Will and they remind him that they don’t actually work for him. I liked the energy and enthusiasm that the younger actors have brought to this particular party. Finally, having been through this particular wringer once before myself, I liked how the film once again reminds us that any first date in which the girl suggests going to see “Evil Dead II” is pretty much doomed from the get-go.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=18072&reviewer=389
originally posted: 08/14/09 00:00:00
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User Comments

9/11/09 Marcia Lartz Strange -- starts as light, sugar-coated version of high school, later turns deep &serious. 3 stars
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  14-Aug-2009 (PG)
  DVD: 16-Mar-2010


  DVD: 16-Mar-2010

Directed by
  Todd Graff

Written by
  Todd Graff

  Gaelan Connell
  Vanessa Anne Hudgens
  Alyson Michalka
  Lisa Kudrow
  Scott Porter

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