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Four Disney Channel Original Movies

Johnny Kapahala: Back on Board (October 1/07)

Buoyed by Brandon Baker's charismatic lead performance and the welcome return of Robyn Lively to the (not-so-big) screen, Johnny Kapahala: Back on Board generally comes off as an inoffensive and surprisingly watchable entry within the Disney Channel's lightweight oeuvre. The film, a sequel to 1999's Johnny Tsunami, follows Baker's Johnny Kapahala as he arrives in Hawaii for his grandfather's wedding - though it's not long before the ace snowboarder finds himself caught up in the rebellious shenanigans of his step-grandmother's obnoxious 12-year-old. There are few plot points within Johnny Kapahala: Back on Board that one can't see coming from miles away, as the movie's four credited screenwriters pepper the proceedings with as predictable a sensibility as one might've expected (this is particularly true of anything involving the aforementioned 12-year-old). And although it's ultimately impossible to recommend the film to those that fall outside of the coveted "tween" demographic, Johnny Kapahala: Back on Board is a certainly a vast improvement over such thoroughly underwhelming efforts as Jump In! and Read It and Weep (if nothing else, the movie is proof positive that Lively deserves more work than she's currently receiving).

out of

Jump In! (April 21/07)

Though technically no worse than any of its Disney Channel forebearers, Jump In! - though infused with a poppy (albeit bland) sense of style and several energetic performances - quickly sinks underneath the weight of its heavy-handed, predictable, and flat-out ridiculous storyline. Disney mainstay Corbin Bleu stars as Izzy Daniels, an affable amateur boxer who finds himself drawn into the competitive world of Double Dutch - much to the chagrin of his father, friends, and even the school bully. Screenwriters Doreen Spicer, Regina Y. Hicks, and Karin Gist have infused Jump In! with a sentimental vibe that's just relentless - forcing Bleu's character to undergo a whole series of absurdly obvious life lessons (including, but certainly not limited to, the realization that his bully has a heart of gold). The movie is likewise filled with various examples of shameless pandering, and even the most indiscriminate viewer will undoubtedly walk away from the movie feeling tremendously insulted by the filmmakers' egregiously simplistic approach (nevermind the fact that it's virtually impossible to imagine a less interesting cinematic subject than jump rope).

no stars out of

Read It and Weep (February 15/07)

The degree to which Read It and Weep telegraphs its various plot developments is nothing short of shocking, as even the most inept viewer will have little difficulty in figuring out precisely where the film is going at all times. Based on the book by Julia DeVillers, the film casts Kay Panabaker as Jamie Bartlett - a reasonably intelligent high schooler who finds herself thrust into the limelight after portions of her diaries are accidentally published. Said diaries, which offer up fictionalized tales of her daily life, transform Jamie into an overnight celebrity, and it's not long before the budding author abandons her old life in favor of a glamorous new one (ie she quits her job at the family pizzeria, she starts ignoring her old friends, etc, etc). Read It and Weep's exceptionally tedious storyline is exacerbated by the uniformly underwhelming performances, although - admittedly - Panabaker does possess a certain amount of charisma (she's been given exceedingly little to work with, however). And although there are a few unintentional laughs to be had with the realization that Jamie is essentially insane - she has long conversations with her fictional alter-ego, Is (played by Panabaker's real-life sister, Danielle) - Read It and Weep has clearly been geared to appeal to the lowest common denominator.

out of

Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior (November 4/06)

As expected, Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior has virtually nothing to offer most viewers over a certain age - although, admittedly, star Brenda Song does seem to possess a reasonable amount of talent (it's just a shame she's never given the opportunity to actually act). Song plays Wendy Wu, a superficial teenager with few concerns other than maintaining her popularity and winning the title of Homecoming Queen. But when a mysterious monk enters her life, Wendy discovers that - because she's the latest descendant in a long line of Chinese warriors - she must battle an evil force bent on world domination. While Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior features a few fairly decent fight sequences, the movie suffers from an overall vibe of blandness (with John Laing's direction egregiously uncreative). The script, penned by no less than four writers (!), is as vapid and brainless as Wendy Wu herself and one can't help but lament its reliance on musical montages to propel the story forward. Fans of Song or past Disney Channel movies will undoubtedly thrill to the titular heroine's empowering antics, while all others will be left rolling their eyes at the rampant ineptness on display.

out of

About the DVDs: Each film is presented with a full-frame transfer, along with a fairly substantial amount of bonus features.
© David Nusair