Word to the wise: Don't interrupt Judge Cynthia Boris while she's working on her kick ball change.
Get ready to rock the house.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery than Disney's cup must overfloweth. This time out it's Nickelodeon attempting to recreate the High School Musical magic with their own low budget, no-star, tween musical extravaganza. It's sweet. It's charming. It's Spectacular!.
Facts of the Case
Nikko (Nolan Gerard Funk, Aliens in America) is a wannabe rock star who's a little too wild for his own good. After an amp-breaking performance at a local club, both his band and his girlfriend cut him loose. Enter Courtney (Tammin Sursock, Young & the Restless), a girl in search of a new male lead singer for her school's show choir, ambitiously named Spectacular!
What is show choir, you ask? Think musical theater without the plot. Competitive gymnastics without the tumbling. Sister Act II with more choreography.
Nikko joins the choir with hopes of winning the prize money he needs to buy studio time for his own rock demo. Unfortunately for everyone, Courtney takes show choir very seriously so things don't go well when Nikko starts a rebellion. Seems the choir members would like to lighten things up a little, throw in some stylish moves and enjoy the ride. But Courtney insists on following through with her own stiff, boring routines even though she's constantly being upstaged by rival show choir TaDa!
Can Nikko tone down Courtney's stubborn streak in time to win the championship? Can Courtney rein in Nikko enough to stay within the competition rules? Can you sit through another TV tween movie full of singing, dancing, and jazz hands—lots of jazz hands? Stick around and I'll tell you why you should.
My enjoyment of a movie musical comes down to two basic things: the production numbers, and the lead actors who have to make them work.
In Spectacular, the production numbers all occur naturally during rehearsals, shows, and karaoke night. Unlike High School Musical, no one simply bursts into song while playing basketball or having lunch. The upside is that the musical numbers make sense. The downside is that they're staged to look staged. They don't have the joyous spontaneity or scope of the numbers in that other movie.
The songs themselves are a nice mix of classic tunes and new numbers penned by Matthew Gerrard and Robbie Nevil. They've written music for Kelly Clarkson, Hilary Duff and yes, that other movie I keep mentioning.
There are twelve tunes in the hour and a half movie, so a good portion of the film is set to music and I like that. I also got a kick out of the show choir versions of "Eye of the Tiger" and "The Things We Do For Love" (performed handily by rival group TaDa!)
The original music ranges (though ever so slightly) from kiddie rock songs such as "Break My Heart" to the hip-hoppy "Dance With Me" to soppy love ballads. The majority of the tunes, though, are the traditional pop rhythms with hopeful lyrics about doing your own thing and becoming something special. Hey, any song that starts with, yeah, yeah, whoo!, get's my vote.
The final production number, "Something to Believe In," is a near carbon-copy of HSM's "Breaking Free" then it busts into a huge production number with guest performers and pyrotechnics. Call me cheesy, but that number makes me smile every time I watch it and yes, I've watched it more than once.
Which brings me to the leads. Before seeing this movie, I had only seen Nolan Funk on Supernatural where he played a possessed teen torturing his mom. Not so in Spectacular! Here he's charming and adorable, with a bad boy edge that makes him a little less like a Zac Efron wannabe. They do share the same hair style but not the same faint-inducing smile; Zac's still number one in my book, but Nolan's the baby brother that could grow on me.
The rest of the cast I could take or leave. Sursock's Courtney reminds me of Bring it On's Torrance, and that's not a good thing. Bring it On is meant to be a parody and this movie isn't. Backing her up are the TaDa team of Tammi (Victoria Justice, Zoey 101) and Royce (Simon Curtis). They're aggravating enough (as they're supposed to be) but don't come close to Ryan and Sharpay, the HSM characters they were obviously patterned after.
The rest of the supporting cast is made up of actors you've seen on a dozen Vancouver-based genre shows and I had a fun time playing, 'where do I know him from.'
As far as the DVD itself, the audio and video are as you'd expect from a brand new movie. Nothing, dare I say, spectacular, but they work. Now seeing as this movie aired free on basic cable, you'd think they would have pumped up this release with a bunch of special features. Yeah, that's what you'd think and that's what it seems to be when you look at the listing, but it's just not so.
The box says there are four behind-the-scenes featurettes and two music videos, but together they barely total ten minutes. Don't tell me that tweens won't watch a featurette that's more than three minutes. They will, if it's good. What you have here is "Spectacular! Video Diary with Victoria Justice," a series of quick edits of her on set. No meat at all. "The Making of Spectacular" is more of a commercial than a behind-the-scenes look. Boo.
"The 5 Things You Need to Be a Show Choir Superstar" pokes fun at the show choir theme but again, there's nothing here of any interest.
"Learn the Moves from Spectacular!" has choreographer R.J. Durell demonstrating the final dance number with Nolan at his side. So at least there's something here worth looking at.
The two music videos are "Everything Can Change" and "For the First Time," each with a Karaoke option. Fun for the whole family.
There's supposed to be an option to download ringtones when you put the DVD in your computer but I couldn't get it to work. So, another disappointment.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Let's face facts. If you're rating movies on a scale where To Kill a Mockingbird is at the top, Spectacular is going to be pretty far down on the list. But, if you stick to the genre and rate it against its peers—High School Musical, Camp Rock, The American Mall—this movie comes out near the top.
Yes, it's cheesy. The dialogue is cliché, the plot is predictable, and all of the music sounds alike. Did any of that stop me from enjoying this film? Not one little bit.
When the film premiered on TV, critics took great pride in pointing out that the work didn't live up to it's own name. Clever, huh? Maybe Nickelodeon would have been better off if they'd lowered the bar by calling it "Not Bad!" At least then critics would have gone into it with lower expectations.
I like this movie. I don't know if I'd be inclined to pull out the DVD again, but it's a movie I would stop and watch on TV, if I was flipping channels. If, however, you have a tween at home with a passion for theatrics, this movie could well become one of their favorites. At that age, it would have been mine.
This court finds Spectacular! guilty of false advertising and orders Sony to change the name to something more fitting such as Cute: The Musical!
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