Inspired by this movie, Judge Kerry Birmingham finally sells out.
"We agreed: no crushing on the captives!"
Somehow, Disney-ized musical talents have once again reasserted control over the youth culture, as happens on a fairly regular basis (and we're overdue: we as a culture have lived bubblegum-free of N'Sync and their ilk for too long, the continued presence of Nick Lachey the only real vestige of their tyrannical reign). High School Musical, Miley Cyrus, and the Jonas Brothers have become the cultural touchstones of this round of youth, and people's appetites for this material seems limitless. And by "people" I mean "young people between the ages of 10 and 16 who have a lot of disposable income and are therefore a more desirable demographic than me." It only makes sense, then, that a slew of imitators would follow in their wake following a similar formula: clean-cut, elaborately coifed teen heart-throbs hocking generic, inoffensive pop to a generation that, bless their hearts, are still just a tad too young to recognize crass marketing when they see it. Enter Taking 5, a middling, direct-to-video comedy/extended commercial aimed squarely at the 'tween girls looking desperately about for something new yet strangely familiar to scream and point at.
Facts of the Case
High schoolers Devon (Alona Tal, Veronica Mars) and Gabby (Daniella Monet, Nancy Drew) are best friends bonded by a love of boy band 5 Leo Rise (played by real-life pop-rock band the Click Five). when the pals inadvertently prevent their school from winning a contest that would bring the band to perform there, the two find themselves branded social outcasts by popular girl kira (kate albrecht, Entourage). When their pleas to the band at an in-store appearance yields nothing, disillusioned Devon and Gabby plot to kidnap the band and make them play a concert at the school to save their social standing.
There's a sequence in the Tom Hanks-directed That Thing You Do! in which the '60s rock band, The Wonders, being milked for all they're worth by a greedy record label, are paraded from one degrading project to another, including an appearance in a generic beach comedy as "Captain Geech and the Shrimp-Shack Shooters." As the band, clad in absurd matching sailor suits, watch Frankie and Annette analogues exchange dialogue, they wonder why they're there and what the point of this degrading appearance is.
The Click Five aren't as desperate as The Wonders' they have the advantage of at least appearing to be in on the joke—but their appearance in Taking 5 virtually makes them Captain Geech and the Shrimp-Shack Shooters. As Devon and Gabby struggle to regain Kira's favor and not get caught with their hostages, bouncing from one sitcom crisis to the next—snooping sisters, media leaks, a healthy dose of Stockholm syndrome, and, um, a flamingo costume—there's the sense that there's nothing that can't be solved with a little pep talk from your best friend and a giggly disregard for parental supervision and the fact you're committing a felony. Playing boy-band versions of themselves (as opposed to their normal pop-rock, opening for acts like Ashlee Simpson), Click Five is at least given distinctive characters to play as their group is accosted, cajoled, and generally abused by their would-be kidnappers in service of a learn-to-be-yourself plotline in which Everything's Okay in the End. There's nothing wrong with a band using a movie to advance their profile. If it's good enough for The Beatles, it should be good enough for lesser Tiger Beat icons with bad haircuts. Taking 5, however, isn't Help!; it's not even Spice World. The whole movie, in fact, is based around an inherent commercialism (more so than most movies, even). Okay, maybe it IS like Spice World. The squeaky-clean teens drink Dunkin' Donuts coffee, wear Aeropostale clothes, and shop at the Virgin Megastore, and the makers of this movie are betting that your kids will, too.
At least ten minutes too long at 90 minutes, Taking 5 does at least offer a basic level of competency that makes its fiercely commercial nature tolerable. The cast makes the most of an uneven script by Shauna Cross. Alona Tal previously played Veronica's frenemy Meg on the late, lamented Veronica Mars, and as such is a skilled veteran of the school of acting where 25-year-olds can play 16 without much disbelief. Daniella Monet likewise does well as neurotic Gabby. For their part, Captain Geech and the Shrimp-Shack Shooters seem game to toy with their image, though an acting career seems unlikely for any of the burgeoning Timberlakes.
Director Andrew Waller keeps things pleasant and makes great use of Ramsey Avery's production design, a world in which a band with an unfortunate name like "5 Leo Rise" can seem to dominate the landscape (a running gag involving Devon's parents at a murder-mystery party involves some particularly nice visuals). Pretty much everything about this movie achieves a basic gloss: it's not art, but it's not the most insulting marketing attempt you or your kids will face. In the end, Taking 5 will probably do for Click Five what Lindsay Lohan's Just My Luck did for pop-punk band McFly: that is to say, not much. Everyone's just collecting a check here, but they know how to do their jobs to get it.
Extras are of the standard fluff variety, including an alternate opening sequence in which Tal and Monet attempt to recreate 5 Leo Rise's dance moves; a brief interview with director Waller; the music video for "Kidnap My Heart" by Click Five performing as 5 Leo Rise, best viewed as parody; and an on-set featurette in which Tal and co-star Marcus T. Paulk drag fellow actors and below-the-line talent onto camera.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
In the interest of fair play, it should be noted that the actual target audience will probably find a lot to like in Taking 5. The members of 5 Leo Rise have a generic Zak Efron quality to them 'tween girls will find appealing, and Tal and Monet do manage to successfully carry the movie and its be-yourself, friends-forever message. As family fare, its teens are squeaky-clean, there's a lesson to be learned, and the romance is chaste. Profanity is limited ("whores," "bitch," and "dick" all make an appearance, and all apparently qualify for PG). Fans of Click Five, sunny comedies, or squealing teen romance could argue that complaints about product placement and cloying plot devices are the cynical ranting of an old man who just doesn't get it, and they're probably right.
Taking 5 is relentlessly chipper, unabashedly commercial, and nauseatingly cartoonish. Your kids will love it.
After much careful deliberation, I find the defendant—I'm sorry, I need a moment to take a sip of this delicious RC Cola. Ah, RC Cola, "the Soda of Kings"! It really helps wash down this basket of T.G.I. Friday's Honey Barbecue Wings, now available at over 800 locations!
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