The Disney Channel’s movie musicals crested in 2007, when “High School Musical 2” drew 17.2 million viewers, and the numbers have been sinking since, down to 5.7 million for “Let It Shine” last year.
The channel’s bid to reverse that trend is “Teen Beach Movie,” on Friday night, a perilously high-concept but intermittently pleasurable concoction that goes back to the future in several ways. One is literal: The story hinges on the two teenage leads’ being zapped across time and dimensions into a 1962 beach blanket film. Once there, they have to use their wits and charm, and their knowledge of the movie-within-the-movie’s plot, to escape back to their own world.
The other is corporate. After the hip-hop “Let It Shine,” with its African-American cast; the animated “Phineas and Ferb” movie (2011); and the “Camp Rock” films featuring the Jonas Brothers (2008 and 2010), “Teen Beach Movie” reclaims Disney’s “High School Musical” formula: a large, mostly white cast, anonymous outside of its key demographic, doing energetic summer camp versions of Broadway production numbers.
Of course, many other sources are tapped for the synthetic peppiness and romance of “Teen Beach Movie.” The film within the film, featuring a song-and-dance face-off between a biker gang and a group of clean-cut surfers, is called “Wet Side Story” (just one “s” away from a more distinguished musical) but more closely channels “Grease,” also a dominant influence on the “High School Musical” films.
You can see “Glee” in the postmodern jokiness, while the science-fiction details recall “Back to the Future” and “Bride of Frankenstein.” Scenes of an energy beam shooting out of a sinister lighthouse suggest that someone might have seen the Australian television series “Lightning Point,” shown here under the title “Alien Surf Girls.” One thing that’s missing is the trashy spirit of the original beach party movies, though there are direct references, like the name of the bike gang (the Rodents, echoing the Rat Pack).
The borrowings don’t become too irritating, though, and the pedestrian direction by Jeffrey Hornaday (a movie choreographer whose credits include “Flashdance”) is endurable because the film’s time-warp, movie-nerd conceit is just clever enough to keep you entertained.
When Brady (Ross Lynch) and Mack (Maia Mitchell) drop into the world of “Wet Side Story” — apparently sent there by an electrical storm in their idyllic real-world beach town — Brady is sanguine about their ability to return: “We’re in luck, because there’s a huge storm at the end of the movie.” But then they inadvertently change the course of the movie, making its Tony-and-Maria leads (named Tanner and Lela) fall in love with them rather than with each other.
Slapstick Shakespearean complications ensue, as Brady and Mack try to get the plot back on track by tricking their metafictional counterparts into falling for each other. “I’ll be back as soon as I get that smokin’ girl to hate me,” Brady says, grimly heading off to antagonize Lela.
Meanwhile, there’s a grain of genuine humor and pathos in the awakening of the robotic Tanner and Lela (Garrett Clayton and Grace Phipps), who initially don’t know anything not contained in the script of “Wet Side Story” but are humanized by their contact with the visitors from the, ahem, real world.
That isn’t to say that anyone outside the film’s target age — up to about 14 — will find “Teen Beach Party” rewarding, just that it might be sufficiently diverting to sit through with a child or younger sibling. Mr. Lynch, star of the Disney Channel series “Austin & Ally,” and Ms. Mitchell, a new addition to the Disney stable who stars in “The Fosters” on ABC Family, are perfectly pleasant, and Barry Bostwick of “Spin City” is amusing in a small part as Mack’s wild-haired, surfboard-making grandfather.
The songs, which sneak Beach Boys harmonies into anodyne pop arrangements, all sound the same, despite being composed by a variety of writers. Even so, a couple of them — “Surf Crazy,” by David Lawrence and Faye Greenberg, and “Falling for Ya,” by Aris Archontis, Chen Neeman and Jeannie Lurie — are catchy enough to stay in your head a few seconds into the next scene.
The biggest problem some viewers may have with “Teen Beach Movie” is its curious, tentative deployment of feminism as a theme. At first Mack rages at the docile boy-craziness of the “Wet Side Story” girls, and she’s desperate to return to the present because she’s about to start attending a high-powered Eastern prep school. But that’s not the stuff of teen beach movies, and eventually she sort of, kind of, maybe changes her mind about her future, in a way that wouldn’t be as troubling if the writers hadn’t felt it necessary to set her up as such an achiever. In a film as self-aware as this, it’s a sour note. i have no idea what the author is trying to say here tbh...
Teen Beach Movie
Disney Channel, Friday night at 8, Eastern and Pacific times; 7, Central time.
Produced by Rainforest Productions, LLC. Directed by Jeffrey Hornaday; written by Vince Marcello, Mark Landry and Robert Horn; David Buelow, executive producer; Robert F. Phillips, producer; choreographed by Mr. Hornaday and Chris Scott.
WITH: Ross Lynch (Brady), Maia Mitchell (McKenzie), Grace Phipps (Lela), Garrett Clayton (Tanner), John Deluca (Butchy), Chrissie Fit (Cheechee), Jordan Fisher (Seacat), Mollee Gray (Giggles), Kent Boyd (Rascal), William T. Loftis (Lugnut), Jessica Lee Keller (Struts), Kevin Chamberlin (Dr. Fusion), Steve Valentine (Les Camembert), Suzanne Cryer (Aunt Antoinette) and Barry Bostwick (Big Poppa).
has anyone watched this? what are your thoughts?