In a way, “Prom” performs a cinematic service — assembling several decades worth of high-school movie cliches in one tidy package, all building toward a prom night conveniently free of sex, drugs or other traditional forms of youthful debauchery. Essentially, this is a Disney Channel movie on a larger screen — skipping the intermediate step that preceded “High School Musical” hitting theaters. An adorable cast (led by “Friday Night Lights'” Aimee Teegarden) ought to provide some appeal for tweens and tykes, though interest should gradually dwindle the closer one gets to actual prom-going age.
Class president and prom committee chief Nova (Teegarden) introduces the pic with a voiceover that romanticizes prom night into a kind of utopian “last call” for teens, dubbing it the one night that “has a way of bringing us together” (evidently ignoring high school’s caste system).
First-time screenwriter Katie Wech then proceeds to introduce more than a dozen characters — some plucked from the Disney Channel/ABC Family/CW nexus of acne-vision, a handful of others screen novices — with a thrown-in homage here and there to ghosts from teen movies past.
Nova, for example, is saddled pre-prom with a surly, motorcycle-riding rebel (Thomas McDonell) who disdains the whole notion of prom night. Nova can’t stand him — at least, until he strips to a tank top.
Ethnically diverse and almost uniformly beautiful, the cast amounts to a modern-day Mickey Mouse club. Tyler (De’Vaughn Nixon) and Jordan (Kylie Bunbury) are the ideal prom king and queen, but there are chinks in their relationship, just as a “Where do we go from here?” hurdle emerges between Mei (Yin Chang) and Justin (Jared Kusnitz), who have been dating since middle school.
Shy, awkward Lloyd (Nicholas Braun), meanwhile, spends the movie trying to find a date for the big night (and delivering comic relief); while sophomore Lucas (Nolan Sotillo) wrestles with his mad crush on dreamgirl Simone (Danielle Campbell), creating tensions with his bosom bud Corey (Cameron Monaghan). There’s even a Jeff Spicoli-type named Rolo (Joe Adler) who unleashes odd non sequiturs, except there’s nary a sign of hallucinogens to explain his stoner-chic demeanor.
And so it goes. Director Joe Nussbaum (perhaps best known for his short “George Lucas in Love”) can elicit only uneven performances from his cast, although that’s due in part to Wech’s penchant for on-the-nose speech-making. Teegarden and McDonell’s early exchanges are particularly wince-inducing in this regard — providing an odd throwback to the 1950s with its misunderstood-bad-boy riff — offset only partially by their attractiveness. At times, there’s a temptation to root for longer music montages — ostensibly there to move a soundtrack, but equally helpful in curtailing the volume of stilted banter.
While the movie obviously has to justify title and premise, there’s also something of an overreach in the prom’s significance as youth’s final frontier, but it’s easy to let that slide. Expunging any youthful indiscretions, by contrast, has a way of stunting the drama and limiting the comedy, as does the virtual absence of adults other than “Breaking Bad’s” Dean Norris as Nova’s protective father.
Nobody’s asking for a remake of “Carrie” here, but clean enough to receive a PG rating and “sanitized” aren’t automatically the same thing.
Ever the cockeyed optimist, Nova paints the prom as a final chance for high-school students to experience “one perfect moment,” something they’ll remember for the rest of their lives.
For the target audience, “Prom” musters a few nice moments, perhaps, but nothing remotely approaching perfection — and hardly any memorable ones.