MGM // 2008 // 92 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Ike Oden (Retired) // April 27th, 2011
A nobody gets to become a somebody and impress everybody.
Ashley Tisdale (High School Musical) is Mandy, a total nerd with an overbearing widower father (Kevin Pollak, End of Days). Despite his unhealthy obsession, the old man isn't totally clueless: for her birthday, he gives her a swanky new video phone and some contact lenses. With newfound social connectivity and her ugly duckling glasses shorn from her otherwise perfect face, the hunkiest guy in school invites her to his lakeside hangout. When Dad finds out, he grounds Mandy from going to a party at the hunk's house. Not only that, but Dad declares that she must check in via videophone every 30 minutes when she is away. With the help of her best friends, Mandy must find a way to con her Dad into believing she's off cramming for an econ test while getting ready for the party. Will Mandy get the beefcake of her dreams, and finally become a somebody?
From workman director Stephen Herek (Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure) comes a high school tale desperately trying to be on the technological cutting edge. Too bad it was released in 2008. Its not Wargames dated or anything but, in lieu of the three years that have passed since Picture This' production, the videophone plot device feels a bit awkward. I'm no Mark Zuckerberg, but aside from services like Skype, I don't really think video phone conversing has really taken off among teens. I know it's only a plot device, and it shouldn't matter as long as the film is good. It isn't. The characters could be speaking into tricorders and riding to the prom in hover cars and it wouldn't make Picture This any less crappy. The video phone thing just makes for an extra dusting of lameness.
The film isn't unwatchable, just grossly unimaginative and flatly directed. Ashley Tisdale is an appealing enough screen presence, but pulls off the ugly duckling archetype about as well as Denise Richard pulls off a nuclear scientist. She was pretty with the glasses on; she's pretty with the glasses off. In fact, the film's make-up department has made sure that she's made-up prettier than any other woman in the cast, a technique that makes it even harder to believe the character. Here's a pro-tip for filmmakers everywhere: if you're going out for an ugly duckling fable, don't hire a model to play the protagonist, and if you do, try to make her look less like a model. And, contrary to popular belief, wearing glasses doesn't make you uglier, just smarter (that's the case with me, anyway).
The script works on a structural level, but is never really funny in any way. The filmmakers seem unsure whether Picture This should play it Disney safe or push into edgier territories. Mandy's virginity is brought into question as a third act device and discarded far too quickly (um, the device itself, not the virginity). Another set piece involves her little cousin stumbling upon a Girls Gone Wild style video. Given the tone of the rest of the film, these flourishes of adult issues and humor feel woefully out of place. For the most part, the audience is treated to hijinks along the lines of an episode of iCarly or The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, continually raising the question, "What broadly comedic situation will Mandy have to get out of next and how will they showcase Tisdale's talents?" Then it treats us to a bad battle of the bands musical interlude or a scene where Mandy and her fans dress up as Latina housekeepers to sneak into the big party.
Besides the latent racism of the latter scene, the movie is fairly inoffensive. It is tailor-made for undiscerning pre-teen girls that dig on this sort of semi-wholesome pre-teen fare. If you have a daughter in this audience bracket who is obsessed with stuff like High School Musical, she'll probably get a kick out of Picture This. If you're foolish enough to choose to join her on this cinematic journey, you'll be treated to the always affable Kevin Pollak sleepwalking his way through his role. Huzzah!
MGM's Blu-ray is so-so at best. The picture is sharper than your typical DVD, but a bit fuzzier than I'd like for a movie released in 2008. It doesn't help that the color palette is bland and lifeless. It looks like an HD transfer of a made-for-TV movie, which isn't what I want in my 1080p presentations. The DTS sound is much better, a clear, full sounding mix over eager in showcasing the film's generic pop song soundtrack. Extras include a making-of-the-movie featurette, a featurette called "Cell Phone Confessions," "The Making of Shadows of the Night" featurette, and scene specific interactive texting.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13