Lifetime likely bought “Sorority Wars” based solely on the title, but the filmmakers admirably gave the old college try to producing a moderately engaging, cheerfully mindless movie to go with it. Mostly, the pic relies on the appeal of Lucy Hale as Katie, a sorority legacy who winds up not pledging her mother’s old house, triggering a domino effect of strained female relationships. The mish-mash of elements (including musical numbers!) is almost comic in its calculation, but for those willing to succumb to the movie’s odd little world, it’s not without its charms.
It’s a given that Katie will pledge Delta, a house that her still frighteningly involved mom Lutie (Courtney Thorne-Smith) helped found. Yet as Katie drags her less-desirable friend Sara (Phoebe Strole) through the rush process, she begins to harbor doubts about Delta, what with mean girl Gwen (Amanda Schull) in charge.
Katie’s public break with that old house triggers a backlash, one that not only frays her friendship with Sara but Katie’s bond with Lutie and Lutie’s interactions with Gwen’s mother, Summer (a nicely hiss-able Faith Ford), another Delta alumna who also plays an active role in the house’s stewardship. The older women’s obsession, in fact, hinges on retaining the Tri Crown trophy, a kind of academic/performance tournament for the terminally blonde. This leads to a weird “Karate Kid” undercurrent, with Summer as the ultimate stage mom, counseling her daughter not to be a loser and do whatever it takes to win. (Sweep the hair, I guess?)
Director James Hayman and writer Michelle Lovretta navigate this silly thicket by unabashedly embracing the seriousness of sorority sisterhood and squabbles. Fortunately, they have the very appealing Hale at the movie’s center, which holds your attention, even if your attention is better devoted elsewhere.
Then again, Lifetime and Hallmark have become pretty shrewd about their femme-movie formula, which whenever possible focuses on mothers and daughters, hoping to get some of the younger generation to watch along with an older audience. Strategically speaking, there’s a clear logic to this, if something modestly unsettling about seeing actresses of the original “Melrose Place” vintage now earmarked for the mom roles.
All “Sorority Wars” is lacking, really, is a pillow fight and a big “Animal House”-style speech to rally the troops before the inter-Greek combat. Maybe they’re saving those for the sequel.