Sleepover (July 8/04)
"Harmless fun" would seem to be the best way to describe Sleepover. The movie isn't trying to be anything other than a breezy romp, and on that level, it succeeds. While there's plenty here for younger viewers to enjoy, director Joe Nussbaum has included enough elements to keep adults interested as well (ie the mere presence of Steve Carell).
Starring Spy Kids grad Alexa Vega as Julie, the movie follows her efforts to organize a sleepover with three of her friends - Hannah (Mika Boorem), Farrah (Scout Taylor-Compton), and Yancy (Kallie Flynn Childress). After the foursome is tempted with a scavenger hunt by some popular fellow classmates, the quiet sleepover becomes a mad dash all over town to acquire items for the hunt. In hot pursuit is local security guard Sherman (Carell), who is determined to track the girls down but finds his efforts thwarted at every turn.
Virtually every review of Sleepover thus far has compared the film to John Hughes' Ferris Bueller's Day Off, which isn't that far off base. Both films feature a similar storyline (a group of students get into wacky situations over the course of a few hours) and a common enemy (Carell's Sherman is essentially a riff of Jeffrey Jones' Mr. Rooney, complete with cheesy mustache), though the similarities end there. While Sleepover certainly isn't a bad movie - it's actually fairly enjoyable, in an instantly-forgettable kind of way - there's nothing terribly memorable about it; it's highly unlikely that the film will ever achieve the kind of timelessness that's associated with Ferris Bueller's Day Off.
Then again, comparing Sleepover screenwriter Elisa Bell (whose most notable credit prior to this is National Lampoon's Vegas Vacation) with the legendary John Hughes isn't exactly fair. All things considered, Bell does a nice job of creating characters worth rooting for - along with villains that are suitably over-the-top and comedic (all of whom, of course, receive an appropriate comeuppance by the time the film ends). Nussbaum, making his feature-length debut, keeps the pace brisk and the tone light - though his inability to seamlessly insert dramatic moments into the story (think Full House, complete with the schmaltzy music) is painfully obvious.
It doesn't come as a big surprise that virtually every character in the film is more compelling than the four main girls, particularly with Vega in the central role. An affable actress, there's an over-rehearsed quality to her performance; like Frankie Muniz before her, Vega's acting lacks spontaneity. On the other hand, performers like Jeff Garlin and Sam Huntington - as Julie's father and brother, respectively - are quirky enough to keep older viewers from falling asleep. And as for Carell, it's impossible not to wish he'd been given more screentime.
Obviously, Sleepover is a film designed to appeal primarily to the coveted "tween" demographic. That it's not an entirely painful experience is thanks primarily to the quirky supporting cast, though the Hughes' comparisons aren't quite applicable.