Chief Justice Michael Stailey is still scraping the bubble gum pop off his shoe.
Our review of Camp Rock (Blu-Ray), published August 19th, 2008, is also available.
The hottest cast of performers at the coolest summer camp anywhere!
There's no denying The Disney Channel captured lightning in a bottle with High School Musical. But with this cash cow quickly heading out to pasture, the network was desperately searching for the next big thing. Luckily for them they had the Jonas Brothers (Hannah Montana's B-siders) in their back pocket. Unluckily for us, their cinematic debut is loaded with cookie cutter stereotypes, poor dialogue, lousy lip-synching, and bad bad acting.
Facts of the Case
Girl has a dream. Girl's hopes are crushed. Girl's dream comes true. Girl pretends to be someone she's not. Girl meets boy. Truth about Girl is revealed. Girl loses boy. Girl learns to live true to who she is. Girl wins boy back. Girl and boy live happily ever after.
Let's be honest. There's nothing original here. Mix High School Musical with Fame, Cinderella, Mean Girls, and a dash of A Hard Day's Night and you have Camp Rock. Then again, this is bubble gum entertainment for the tween scene, most of whom could care less that the films of their youth are shallow derivatives of greater tales. Heck, they get the Jonas Brothers on screen for an hour. That's what matters most.
Joe Jonas, the middle brother, plays Shane, a bad boy pop star banished to the role of celebrity camp counselor, after a falling out with his band—Connect Three—forces the cancellation of their summer tour. The camp is owned by his uncle (which has no impact on the story whatsoever) and is supposed to be the place where his rise to fame began three years earlier. In a Cinderella twist, Shane has become enchanted by the disembodied voice of a fellow camper—Mitchie, played by Demi Lovato—whom he's supposedly spending the summer trying to identify, but never really puts any effort into it. Mitchie is a girl from the wrong side of the gilded industry tracks. Instead of being the child of famous parent (like the rest of bunk-mates), she's the daughter of the camp caterer, which is how she was able to attend. Of course, to fit in, she makes up some bogus story about her mom, which ultimately proves her undoing. Hence, the film is peppered with classic teen messages of "be yourself," "don't lie," and "know who your real friends are," none of which come across as organic.
Demi, with her Michelle Branch/Vanessa Carlton vibe, holds her own in the vocal department and establishes a nice chemistry with Joe, albeit outside the scripted dialogue. Joe, on the other hand, is somewhat of a train wreck. Even during what's supposed to be quiet acoustical moment, when given the opportunity to do what he does best, director Matthew Diamond forces him to lip synch to an overproduced track in which either he or his brothers sing back up. This is shot with Shane and Mitchie on the pier, siting no more than two feet apart, and Joe belting out this tune like he's playing to stadium of 10,000 screaming girls. It's ridiculous.
Speaking of ridiculous, poor Meaghan Jette Martin is in way over her head as Tess, the golden child camp queen whose mom is a Broadway superstar. Without the chops to pull it off, this villainess is toothless and her so-called redemption is ill conceived and carries no weight. Aside from Demi, the only other two performance bright spots are Alyson Stoner (Mike's Super Short Show) as the geeky Caitlyn—who actually learned how to sing just for this role—and the youngest Jonas, Nick, who it turns out was the first of the brothers to be signed to a real life recording contract. The other two apparently tagged along for the ride.
Every possible summer camp, underdog, musical competition, "I'm famous but just wanna be a kid" convention you could possible imagine is crammed into this script, penned by vintage MTV comedienne Julie Brown (not Ms. Wubba-Wubba-Wubba) and her brother Paul who used to write for Quantam Leap and The X-Files. Even the finale, with it's Rocky rehearsal montage leading up to the big "Final Jam," plays out like an episode of America's Got Talent.
In the end, it's the adult production team who are to blame for dumbing things down to empty-headed banality. The kids do what they're asked, to the best of their ability, and you can't hold anything against them for that.
Presented in glorious Disney Channel full frame format, it crops out 25% of what was actually filmed in 1.78 anamorphic widescreen. Yet another bonehead move by the producers. The Dolby 5.1 audio is serviceable and your kids are likely to crank it up as they bounce around the room.
The bonus materials are crafted in the patented Disney Channel short attention span style, with lots of talking heads, in artistically formatted quick cuts, with an ever present musical underscore. All of these pieces tie into the "Rock Star" theme, headlined by the cast giving kids instructions on how to fast track their life to the big time in "How to Be a Rock Star!" The mini-doc "Jonas Brothers: Real-Life Rock Stars" tells the quick history of how the boys got into the business. "Introducing Demi Lovato" serves the same purpose for the young actress, in half the time. The rest are EPK fluff like the "Camp Memories" behind-the-scenes slide show; "Hasta La Vista" and "Too Cool" rehearsal footage; "Start the Party" and "We Rock" music videos; and karaoke/sing-a-long options for your own little rock stars.
Which brings me to an interesting point…the use of the word "Rock" here is sorely misconstrued. "Rock" is the Rolling Stones, The Who, Led Zepplin, The Doors, Aerosmith, AC/DC, Van Halen, and so on. What we're dealing with here is manufactured Pop. Big difference. In fact, there's one cabin scene between the three Jonas boys that could have been lifted right out of any episode of The Monkees, with Kevin doing a dead-on Peter Tork impersonation. So, referring to anything in this project as "Rock" besmirches 50 years of reckless abandon and downward spiral into sex, drugs, and creative genius. Hell, these kids aren't even allowed to share a kiss, knowing full well the look in their eyes says they want to jump each other's bones.
Curmudgeonly critical analysis aside, Camp Rock is harmless Disney fun for the 7-15 crowd. They already own the soundtrack, know the lyrics, and have the choreography down cold. Buying the DVD is a no-brainer. But calling it exceptional cinematic entertainment is not gonna happen.
H-A-S-T-AAAAAA La Vista!
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Scales of Justice
• "How to be a Rock Star!"
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