We're introduced to a sprawling ensemble of jazz-handing go-getters – played largely by wide-eyed newcomers – in a flashy opening montage: there’s the insular hip-hop thesp who scowls and says ‘shee-it’ a lot; there’s the timorous emo waif who needs to come out of her shell; there’s the classical pianist who discovers a talent for soul singing (much – for reasons unexplained – to the chagrin of her father); and there’s the zany, fast-talking ‘film buff’ who, whenever he’s on screen, you pray the filmmakers would have the good grace to kill off in a some kind of wacky prescription mix-up.
The one big name here is Kelsey Grammer, who dons his best tweed waistcoat as the world-weary classical music tutor charged with drumming the joys of Bach into a class of students weened on the Black Eyed Peas. With his omnipresent rictus grin and lacklustre dialogue delivery, Grammer gives a performance that looks like he’s just repeating the word ‘pay cheque’ over and over in his head whenever he’s on screen.
The one sequence in the entire film that rings true is when a lantern-jawed hopeful is being told that he hasn’t got what it takes to be a professional ballet dancer and may have to seek other employment, while at the same time a troupe of lithe, suspender-clad strumpets are trotting out a brassy pole-dancing routine. The irony, you feel, has been lost on the filmmakers.
Indeed, while the film is completely devoid of humour, the thing that irritates the most is the its shameful attitude towards the classical arts. In this world, you can’t perform a piece on the cello unless it segues into heart-on-sleeve MOR pop. Nor can you recite Shakespeare unless someone is beat-boxing in the background. There’s also no sense of the genuine competitiveness in the showbiz industry. By the end, it feels like one big light entertainment indoctrination video and if I'd heard the words ‘smile’, ‘dream’, ‘hope’ or ‘success’ just one more time, I might have been inclined to two-step right off a suspension bridge.