Take that, Disney Channel: In a bid for its own slice of the tween girl market, Nickelodeon is rolling out “Spectacular!,” a hodge-podge of youth musical cliches that might as well have been titled “High School Musical: Me, Too!” Showcasing 10 original tunes along with several covers, the movie has some energy but, not surprisingly, sags between songs. Unlikely to cause the stir “HSM” did, the movie should at least give Nick its own calling card with this lucrative audience, whose ever-changing tastes remain one of life’s great mysteries.
The producers are clearly banking that the next heartthrob du jour will be Nolan Gerard Funk, who plays Nikko, the rock rebel recruited by the perky Courtney (Tammin Sursok) to spice up her limp “show choir.” For the unfamiliar, said choir is a kind of jazz group — complete with gaudy outfits and elaborate old-school choreography — introduced singing “Eye of the Tiger” as if it were being performed by the Lawrence Welk singers. (Look it up, kids.)
About four minutes in, you can pretty much anticipate every beat of Jim Krieg’s script, with Nikko bringing some pizzazz and spontaneity into Courtney’s starched choir routine and an inevitable faceoff looming with her ex-boyfriend Royce (Simon Curtis) in a big sing-off showcase — after a few equally inescapable potholes, like the choir gang discovering that Nikko has his own mercenary reasons for joining.
Directed by Robert Iscove (“From Justin to Kelly”), the musical numbers are certainly staged with vigor, pounding you with relentless pop hooks that will either have you humming along by the third chorus or, just as likely, pleading for relief. If only the producers had exhibited a bit more conviction by taking even a few modest chances, like beefing up the role of the blase music teacher (Greg Germann) or allowing the seemingly gay kid among the ethnically diverse cast to articulate as much. Maybe they’ll save that for the next Linda Ellerbee special.
Sursok is pretty enough but saddled with a fairly boring character (forced to squeal things like, “How do we do ‘Eye of the Tiger’ without tiger pants?”). Funk is left to carry the load, especially on the 10 new songs written by Matthew Gerrard and Robbie Nevil.
Sociologically speaking, it is interesting that the kid-oriented networks have rediscovered the Frankie-and-Annette, or even Mickey and Judy, formula 45 years later. So come on, kids, let’s put on a show. Even if it’s not truly “Spectacular!,” it’ll probably be enough to sell CDs and inspire some downloads.