Four Disney Channel Original Movies
Johnny Kapahala: Back on Board (October 1/07)
Buoyed by Brandon Baker's charismatic lead performance and the welcome return of Robyn Lively to the (not-so-big) screen, Johnny Kapahala: Back on Board generally comes off as an inoffensive and surprisingly watchable entry within the Disney Channel's lightweight oeuvre. The film, a sequel to 1999's Johnny Tsunami, follows Baker's Johnny Kapahala as he arrives in Hawaii for his grandfather's wedding - though it's not long before the ace snowboarder finds himself caught up in the rebellious shenanigans of his step-grandmother's obnoxious 12-year-old. There are few plot points within Johnny Kapahala: Back on Board that one can't see coming from miles away, as the movie's four credited screenwriters pepper the proceedings with as predictable a sensibility as one might've expected (this is particularly true of anything involving the aforementioned 12-year-old). And although it's ultimately impossible to recommend the film to those that fall outside of the coveted "tween" demographic, Johnny Kapahala: Back on Board is a certainly a vast improvement over such thoroughly underwhelming efforts as Jump In! and Read It and Weep (if nothing else, the movie is proof positive that Lively deserves more work than she's currently receiving).
Though technically no worse than any of its Disney Channel forebearers, Jump In! - though infused with a poppy (albeit bland) sense of style and several energetic performances - quickly sinks underneath the weight of its heavy-handed, predictable, and flat-out ridiculous storyline. Disney mainstay Corbin Bleu stars as Izzy Daniels, an affable amateur boxer who finds himself drawn into the competitive world of Double Dutch - much to the chagrin of his father, friends, and even the school bully. Screenwriters Doreen Spicer, Regina Y. Hicks, and Karin Gist have infused Jump In! with a sentimental vibe that's just relentless - forcing Bleu's character to undergo a whole series of absurdly obvious life lessons (including, but certainly not limited to, the realization that his bully has a heart of gold). The movie is likewise filled with various examples of shameless pandering, and even the most indiscriminate viewer will undoubtedly walk away from the movie feeling tremendously insulted by the filmmakers' egregiously simplistic approach (nevermind the fact that it's virtually impossible to imagine a less interesting cinematic subject than jump rope).
no stars out of
Read It and Weep
The degree to which Read It and Weep telegraphs its various plot developments is nothing short of shocking, as even the most inept viewer will have little difficulty in figuring out precisely where the film is going at all times. Based on the book by Julia DeVillers, the film casts Kay Panabaker as Jamie Bartlett - a reasonably intelligent high schooler who finds herself thrust into the limelight after portions of her diaries are accidentally published. Said diaries, which offer up fictionalized tales of her daily life, transform Jamie into an overnight celebrity, and it's not long before the budding author abandons her old life in favor of a glamorous new one (ie she quits her job at the family pizzeria, she starts ignoring her old friends, etc, etc). Read It and Weep's exceptionally tedious storyline is exacerbated by the uniformly underwhelming performances, although - admittedly - Panabaker does possess a certain amount of charisma (she's been given exceedingly little to work with, however). And although there are a few unintentional laughs to be had with the realization that Jamie is essentially insane - she has long conversations with her fictional alter-ego, Is (played by Panabaker's real-life sister, Danielle) - Read It and Weep has clearly been geared to appeal to the lowest common denominator.