A weightless, through-the-looking-glass tale about pop music ostensibly aimed at club-kid dancing machines, “Alice on Stage” will prove too unbelievable for anyone beyond the first blush of acne. Story of a beautiful young ingenue who achieves her showbiz dream while falling in love and defeating all the meanies in her way is similar in tone and intellectual heft to “Flashdance,” but pic’s strictly local multicultural correctness condemns it mostly to distribution on home turf. Backed by Gallic net M6, pic has a long after-school tube life ahead of it.
Story opens as tight-jeaned Alice (Ambre Boukebza) discovers she is the illegitimate daughter of a French music honcho (Bernard Le Coq). She hitches to the big city, determined to confront him, but instead is befriended by teenybop idol and minor singing star Ophelie Winter (playing herself), an African garbage man (Ashanti) who teaches her how to dance, a fellow girl-group wannabe (Lea Drucker) who teaches her how to sing, and a handsome indie producer (Patrick Forster-Delmas) who teaches her how to love.
Soso and Zen, two French-Arab rappers, and Gregoire, a Parisian techno geek (played by a fast-talking trio of thesps last seen together in Thomas Gilou’s “Rai”), coalesce with Alice, her voice coach and producer to form the Catalytiques, a hybrid pop band encouraged by the saintly star Winter. But Alice, a headstrong puppy still unable to face her old dog of a father, deserts the band twice — once to sell out, once to freak out.
In his lively, fast-moving feature debut, Jerome Cornuau betrays his vid-clip background by letting a pop-standard soundtrack handle character development and a busy editor extricate him from the demands of narrative continuity. As with a stick of gum, pic’s fun lasts only so long before becoming flavorless.
Model-turned-thesp Boukebza turns in a fetching, bouncy perf that never once adds unwanted depth to the peppy unreality of her character. The same can be said of all the cast — although the range is limited, no one hits a false note. Standouts are cool newcomer Ashanti, as French film’s first soulful sanitation engineer, and veteran Le Coq, as Alice’s deadbeat dad and ruthless music exec.
Jean-Luc Raoul’s production design and Veronique Perier’s costuming are squeaky-clean renderings of hip urban grittiness, as are the Catalytiques’ formulaic forays into rap-techno-girl-group crossover. The otherwise talented Winter unwisely covers a couple of R&B classics onscreen; Henri Belolo, the soundtrack DJ, has made eclectic choices destined as a compilation CD for junior-high sophisticates.
Scenes of arena rock togetherness, shot as shameless promotion for the biannual mega-dance-a-thons held in Paris by co-producer M6, are nicely woven in with lenser Bernard Zitzermann’s widescreen re-creations of Madonna-inspired stage shows.