Yo, Appellate Judge Rob Lineberger shows his true Cheetah spots by dissing this jiggy glam throwaway. A'ight?
"May the grrrowl power of all the fabulous divas who came before us be with us now. May we use our hearts, our brains, and our courage to reach our Cheetah-licious potential…right here, right now."—Galleria Garibaldi
It would be understatement to say that I'm not in the target demographic for The Cheetah Girls. This Disney made-for-TV ode to young divas is squarely aimed at tween girls who still have a thing for '90s pop music. Nonetheless, I flatter myself with the notion that I am not one of those stodgy critics quick to wither disposable cinema with his scathing derision. In fact, the irony is that this thirtysomething cynic has a soft spot for female pop vocalists…in fact, the A*Teens get frequent play in the Lineberger household.
Nonetheless, the naked truth is that The Cheetah Girls is a subpar effort from any angle. It utterly fails as a movie, leaving no plot twist or character action in doubt. Disney has made billions of dollars selling a formula (and I have enjoyed many of those formula flicks in the past), but The Cheetah Girls is so transparently formula-bound that it is insulting to watch. The biggest, but by no means the only, violation is an extended drama at the end about Galleria's poodle getting stuck in a gas main. This spectacle brings every fireman, newscaster, and innocent bystander out of the woodwork to stand a petrified vigil. The city holds its collective breath while the fate of this poofy mammal is decided. Galleria is in tears of anxiety, and her shunned friends come rushing to her side…all wearing matching outfits to support the inevitable dance number when the poodle is rescued. This climax is so miscalculated that it seems surreal. I hoped against hope that it was a red herring to mask some deeper message. But no. The whole thing is played straight, which causes me to wonder who was supposed to be swept up in the drama. I doubt that even the most sensitive preteen would suggest that a poodle is worth cutting the main power to the grid or sending in six fire trucks.
The Cheetah Girls fails as a style vehicle as well: I defy you to find any self-respecting tween girl who will use the word "Cheetah-licious" in her daily speech. The Cheetah Girls chokes on its own girl-power fluff. You can practically taste the polyester stuffing that oozes from the cheetah-print outfits. Conversations go something like this: "Girl, you got nothin' to worry about, girl, 'cause you gots cheetah-power-potential, girl! A'ight?" Even the most out-of-touch viewers can sense that such verbal excess isn't cool.
What passes for acting in this farce is nearly enjoyable for the hamming that it is. The divas are anchored by Raven, the Disney staple, who flashes her winning smile and exhibits something approaching spunk. The rest of the girls (Adrienne Bailon, Kiely Williams, and Sabrina Bryan) are nondescript, but it isn't their fault: The script has them uttering such frustrating and forgettable lines that they never had a chance. Even the highly watchable Vince Corazza (Owning Mahowny) becomes a caricature because his actions are so vapid and meaningless. Had the script swayed but a bit from its determined blandness, these actors could have delivered something of merit.
The one aspect of The Cheetah Girls that approaches believability is the pop quartet. These girls have the right looks and the right moves (when they aren't bumping into each other, that is). If the writers had backed off from the cheesy Cheetah marketing onslaught, you could envision these young ladies as a bona fide musical act. I won't go so far as to call the songs Top Ten material, but they were enjoyable pop riffs. The moves weren't tight, but they were sincere and energetic, and the girls had chemistry. The only parts where I wasn't checking my watch were when the Cheetah Girls were getting their groove on.
Unfortunately, the movie invariably brought these moments to screeching halts. Ponder the flagrant hypocrisy when Raven (I mean Galleria) goes off on producer Jackal Johnson for asking the Cheetah Girls to lip synch. Pardon me, but isn't that exactly what you've been doing the entire movie? Such misplaced ethical stands permeate the plot. There is reverse racism, a meaningless romantic angle, a vehement argument over clothing, and other confused moral subtext. The Cheetah Girls desperately wants to say something, but it never really says anything. Unless you count "Yo, we're all mixed up in this jiggy jungle together."
The production values on this gem are passable, but not particularly impressive. Disney spends more on the nightly fireworks display at Disneyworld that they did on these sets and effects. The sound quality is okay for the musical numbers, less clear in dialogue scenes. The image quality is fine but never escapes its TV roots.
The DVD package itself is insidious. Right off the bat, Interactual Player tries to install itself if you view the DVD on a computer. This is particularly troubling if you are quick to maximize the window, because the Interactual install screen lurks behind the video layer until you close the window. I live in fear that I might accidentally press the OK button and install this "handy" software. If you bypass this marketing land mine, Disney kindly allows you to register your DVD—as long as you are connected to the Internet. Fear not, I'm sure they won't leave any sort of tracking cookie behind on your PC. Do the five-minute fluff piece and the handful of musical excerpts (relabeled as music videos) make up for these annoyances? Not really. And given the grotesque absurdity of the finale, I really don't dig the alternate ending.
Whether you are in the target demographic or out of it, I suggest that you don't feed The Cheetah Girls. There are far more entertaining efforts to be found, even if you aren't looking very hard.
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Scales of Justice
• "Behind The Spots" Making-of Featurette
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