Disney starlets get top billing, but Bandslam is a different kind of high-school musical. Before nerdy Jersey transplant Will (Connell) can tap out his daily fan e-mail to David Bowie, he’s targeted by the two most beautiful teenage outcasts in recorded history: cheerleader-turned-rock-goddess Charlotte (Michalka) and brainy goth wallflower Sam (Hudgens). The former needs Will’s help shaping up her band for a big-deal competition, while the latter helps him break into the boarded up CBGB. Which one does he love more?!?
A production of Christian cinema juggernaut Walden Media, Bandslam offers a version of rock & roll that goes down sans drugs and prefers puppy love over down-and-dirty sex. But other than a heavy-handed antidrinking message, the squeaky-clean sheen isn’t a handicap. The movie is a far more convincing fantasy of performance-as-self-discovery than the High School Musical franchise, and the way it depicts the misfit adolescent impulse to seek salvation in music feels more honest than the hipper Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist. Still, the final showdown falls a little flat—blame Hudgens, who’s got precious little stage presence—and the obsession with offering earnest explanations for Why Teens Do What They Do may elicit eye rolls from actual teens. Thankfully, the winking YouTube-centric coda should win the demographic back. (Opens Fri.)—Karina Longworth
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