Starring: Alyson Michalka, Vanessa Hudgens, Gaelan Connell
Directed by: Todd Graff (“Camp”)
Written by: Todd Graff (“Camp”) and Josh A. Cagan (debut)
Until someone adapts “Twilight” into a vampire musical, tweens everywhere will have to put all their hopes into the coming-of-age music flick “Bandslam” to be the sensible replacement for three years worth of “High School Musical” dance sequences.
But when most of the young characters in “Bandslam” prove to have the personalities of cardboard cutouts one would find displayed in a mall music store to peddle new CDs, there’s not much to expect other than a few catchy songs and a script as fascinating as a cheesy message scribbled in the back of a high school yearbook.
In “Bandslam,” director Todd Graff, who helmed the 2003 film “Camp” about the students of a New York performance art camp, doesn’t have much of a leading man in Gaelan Connell. Connell, who looks like the lovechild of Shia LaBeouf (“Transformers”) and Jesse Eisenberg (“Adventureland”), plays high school dweeb Will Burton, an encyclopedia of music knowledge who is misunderstood by his peers and has become “comfortably numb” with his average life.
Aware of her son’s unhappiness, Will’s mom Karen (Lisa Kudrow) decides they will pack everything up and start a new life in New Jersey. At his new school, Will quickly makes friends with loner hipster girl Sa5m (Vanessa Hudgens, who explains that the 5 in her name is silent; how very clever) and ex-cheerleader Charlotte Banks (Alyson Michalka of Aly & AJ fame).
Will enrolls in school just as everyone starts talking about the upcoming music competition known as Bandslam. The talent show features the best high school bands (we’re not talking about the ones that march during halftime) in the city that are all vying for a record contract. Charlotte is set on being one of the two band chosen to represent her school. The problem is that their band Glory Dogs, a splinter group of Charlotte’s former band Ben Wheatly and the Glory Dogs, isn’t ready for the spotlight.
In steps Will as the band’s new manager ready to whip the group into shape and make the necessary changes they need to win. Everything basically falls into place pretty easily with Graff’s script. The band becomes too good too fast while Will and Sa5m discover that their friendship is turning into something more meaningful.
While Hudgens tries to break out her “High School Musical” mold and portray a character with a little more attitude, Sa5m, along with the rest of the characters, just aren’t fleshed out well enough to get past all the clichés and familiar storyline. It’s also not as witty as Graff would like it to be. Much of the dialogue is unnatural (“Emotions are overrated,” “I don’t do whys”), which drains the high schoolers of their charm.
All the rocking out leads to the Battle of the Bands-type competition and a surprise twist in the story that tries to tie everything together in the film’s waning moments. Emotionally, there’s not much to care about in the lives of these students other than their musical talent. But even that’s not enough when everyone – with the exception of Hudgens – seems like they’re lip-syncing and playing air guitar.