Three Disney Channel Original Movies
Lemonade Mouth (May 29/11)
A typically innocuous Disney Channel flick, Lemonade Mouth follows five high school outcasts - Bridgit Mendler's Olivia, Adam Hicks' Wen, Hayley Kiyoko's Stella, Naomi Scott's Mo, and Blake Michael's Charlie - as they form the title band and, eventually, begin to prepare for a pivotal music competition. There's little doubt that Lemonade Mouth's target demographic of teenagers will find plenty here worth getting excited about, as filmmaker Patricia Riggen, working from April Blair's screenplay, does a nice job of both establishing the (admittedly one-dimensional) characters and peppering the proceedings with several energetic (yet bland) musical numbers. The film is, however, almost entirely lacking in elements designed to capture and sustain the interest of older viewers, with the pervasive familiarity of the storyline - ie Blair takes the narrative in every single direction one might have anticipated - exacerbated by an almost ridiculously overlong running time (112 minutes? Really?) And while the movie's five central performers are all quite likeable and charismatic, Blair saddles their respective characters with hackneyed, unreasonably hoary instances of backstory (eg Wen struggles to accept his father's 28-year-old girlfriend, Charlie must live up to the example of his successful older brother, etc, etc). The inclusion of a few nice moments here and there - eg Olivia opens up to Wen after her beloved cat dies - can't quite compensate for what is otherwise a hopelessly dumbed-down endeavor, although, to be fair, one could certainly do far worse in terms of the Disney Channel's original fare.
StarStruck (June 1/11)
StarStruck casts Sterling Knight as Christopher Wilde - a popular teenage singer who's feeling the pressure to succeed from virtually everyone around him (including his manager parents). Christopher is right on the verge of a big movie deal when he encounters a surly high schooler named Jessica Olson (Danielle Campbell), with the film subsequently revolving around the tentative romance that inevitably blossoms between the unlikely pair. There's little doubt that StarStruck fares best in its opening half hour, as the movie, though saddled with as familiar a storyline as one could possibly envision, possesses a lighthearted and easygoing atmosphere that's heightened by the charisma of its two stars. It's only as the central characters are forced to spend more and more time together that the film starts to derail, with Jessica's frustratingly (and needlessly) combative demeanor transforming the character into the cinematic equivalent of nails on a chalkboard. The relentless squabbling that subsequently dominates StarStruck's midsection proves instrumental in cementing its downfall, with the film's progressively tedious vibe compounded by the inclusion of an eye-rollingly pointless fake break-up towards the end. (And let's not even get started on the plethora of irritatingly bland pop songs sprinkled throughout the proceedings.)
Wizards of Waverly Place: The Movie (June 1/11)
Based on the popular Disney Channel series, Wizards of Waverly Place: The Movie follows the Russo clan - parents Jerry (David DeLouise) and Theresa (Maria Canals-Barrera), and kids Alex (Selena Gomez), Justin (David Henrie), and Max (Jake T. Austin) - as they head to the Caribbean for a family vacation and inevitably find themselves caught up in a larger-than-life predicament. (After Alex impulsively wishes that Jerry and Theresa had never met, she and her two siblings must figure out a way to reverse the spell before all three of them are permanently erased from existence.) It's a high-concept premise that's generally utilized to watchable effect by director Lev L. Spiro, although, by that same token, there's little doubt that Wizards of Waverly Place: The Movie gets off to an almost disastrously underwhelming start - as the film suffers from a pervasively low-rent atmosphere that's compounded by chintzy special effects and juvenile bursts of humor. Things improve somewhat once the action shifts to the Caribbean, with the Back to the Future-like storyline generally sustaining the viewer's interest and leading into an Indiana Jones-like stretch detailing Alex and Justin's efforts at retrieving a mystical stone. The film's Harry Potter-like finale feels comparatively desperate and anticlimactic, and it ultimately goes without saying that the movie will work best among die-hard fans of the TV show.