When your film is a tween-targeted beach romp with a rockin’ pop soundtrack and your title character is a magical, wish-granting mermaid, it’d be easy to assume that you’re not really going for cinematic greatness. Add to that a sugar-slathered plot—said mermaid, now on dry land (and two legs), must prove that love exists by winning the heart of her hunky lifeguard crush—and director Elizabeth Allen’s feature debut becomes better suited for the Disney Channel than the multiplex.
To make things fair, let’s pretend that this end-of-summer tale about two BFFs and their new fishy friend is actually a House of Mouse series: Like magic, it’s suddenly not that bad. Roberts (niece of Julia and star of the Disney show Unfabulous) delivers her lines with an intensity that belies her prepubescent looks, while Levesque (who moonlights as multiplatinum pop princess JoJo) proves that she’s capable of more than just music. Even Barbie-in-the-flesh Paxton, as Aquamarine, demonstrates a surprising amount of comic talent, fish tail and all. But once we realize that the cast is happily frolicking to Z100--inspired tunes, spewing Hallmark-quality adages (“Why go through life unnoticed?”) or giggling excessively at the drop of a hat—which, much to the chagrin of anyone over the age of 12, is most of the time—poof!, we’re back in reality. (Opens Fri; see Index for venues.)—Martha Tuber