TV Preview

'Camp Rock' Isn't in Peak Form

By Jennifer Frey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 20, 2008

Perhaps Disney can't actually continue to clone the Zac Efrons and Ashley Tisdales and Hannah Montanas of the world. But it sure will keep trying.

Disney's corporate strategy for keeping tweens' attention spans captive during this long, dry, "High School Musical"-less summer -- the big-screen "HSM" film isn't out till after school starts -- rests on "Camp Rock." The movie, debuting tonight, features the Jonas Brothers, those three floppy-haired boys who make girls of a certain age everywhere squeal, and is set at (duh!) Camp Rock, a sleep-away camp for those who want to be rock stars and composers and record producers.

And it's pretty lame.

Sorry, but true.

Joe Jonas plays Shane Gray, the lead singer of a white-hot band called Connect Three. He's gotten all uppity and spoiled and obnoxious, so much so that even his label is fed up with him (imagine that!), and he is dispatched to the camp from whence it all came to rediscover his musical roots. Those viewers who already adore Joe will continue to moon over his puppy-dog looks; alas, fans of brothers Nick and Kevin will be disappointed to discover that they only play cameo parts.

The movie itself comes across less as a vehicle for the Jonas Brothers than as a Jonas Brothers' payback to Disney (as in: thank you, O Great Mouse, for putting us on the same concert tour with Miley Cyrus's impossibly popular alter ego, Hannah Montana). And it's really a launching pad for 15-year-old singer-actress Demi Lovato, who has toiled on the Disney show "As the Bell Rings" and clearly wants to launch her own Hannah Montana-style music career.

Alas, although she's likable enough, Lovato just doesn't have the same sparkle as a Miley Cyrus -- or an Ashley Tisdale, for that matter. And though her music is in the same dance-inspiring, easy-to-memorize mode as that of the "HSM" franchise, it's not as catchy.

Lovato plays Mitchie Torres, a girl whose parents have enough money for a nice house but not enough to foot the bill at a place such as Camp Rock, which is home to the children of major record producers and multiple-Grammy winners. So Mom (played by Maria Canals-Barrera), who has her own catering business, agrees to be camp cook for the summer to get Mitchie in at a cut rate. There, Mitchie makes famous friends and starts a budding relationship with the famous Shane.

Only she lies pretty much the whole time. Yes, even though it has that evergreen adolescent theme -- be yourself, don't worry about running with the popular crowd, etc. -- "Camp Rock" has a heavy dose of its heroine not standing up for herself and instead living in hideous shame over her mother's job and their lamentable financial status. She makes up a fake mom, and never comes clean until she gets busted by the mean girl.

That mean girl is Tess, played by Meaghan Jette Martin, who as the token blonde/mean girl is far less distinctive than Tisdale in the "HSM" franchise. And Mitchie's best friend, Caitlyn, is played by the wonderful Alyson Stoner, best known as the girl from the "Cheaper by the Dozen" films -- the one who puts the raw meat into Ashton Kutcher's underwear.

The film's finale, with its big, end-of-camp "Final Jam," produces several more songs that will be on iPods everywhere this summer. But even the Jonas Brothers-loving 9-year-old in my house declared "Camp Rock" way too predictable to be worth watching more than once. And isn't that the whole point of a Disney film?

Camp Rock (two hours) premieres tonight at 8 on Disney.

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