“Mindless Behavior: All Around the World” is another entry in the ever-expanding pop-umentary genre that, like predecessors “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never” and “Katy Perry: Part of Me,” reminds young people that truly anyone can achieve stardom. All a budding artist needs is talent, a strong work ethic and a management team capable of devising shameless marketing strategies that may or may not involve releasing a theatrical film the same week your sophomore CD drops. (By the way, “All Around the World,” the new album by Mindless Behavior, is in stores now!)
Look, it’s hard out here for a boy band. Bieber and One Direction are always sucking up all the teeny-bop oxygen, with their intentionally mussed hair and gossip-column-ready girlfriends and Twitter followings that, if mobilized, could form a daunting, eardrum-shattering army. A quartet like Mindless Behavior — four popping, locking and singing teens who have a strong, predominantly African American fan base but still remain largely unknown to most individuals over the age of 18 who don’t regularly watch BET’s “106 & Park” — has to do what’s necessary to capture attention.
And what’s necessary, in this case, is to star in a movie that’s opening solely in select AMC theaters, is being distributed by the YouTube channel Awesomeness TV and wasn’t screened in advance for critics. (This reviewer was the only person in the theater for a Friday matinee. But, to be fair, it was a weekday afternoon, when most of the film’s target demographic was at recess.)
The movie’s narrative approach borrows straight from the “Never Say Never” playbook — a combination of concert footage, backstage high-jinks and earnest interviews about how hard the guys have worked to achieve success, a success defined by the movie as winning the 2012 BET Viewer’s Choice Award.
We see the Mindless heroes, busting their carefully choreographed moves on a massive stage before squealing, sobbing fans. We hear from their manager/svengali Walter Millsap III, who speaks about the kindness and talent of his charges, talent he discovered after (his words) God called him to create a boy band. And although we never learn their real names, we hear from the band members — Princeton, Prodigy, Ray Ray and Roc Royal — as well as from their families. They all seem like good kids who really want to be famous, with well-intentioned parents who allowed them to take extreme measures to achieve that fame. And that’s where, albeit unintentionally, the Mindless Behavior movie gets a little sad.
As the film explains, after being handpicked by Millsap, all four of the then middle-schoolers were instructed to move into the L.A. home of Keisha Gamble, another of the band’s managers, where they spent two years being molded into fighting boy-band shape. They were home-schooled and rarely saw their families. Prodigy, the only East Coaster, moved all the way across the country to live with people he barely knew.
“He explained it to me,” one of the Mindless mothers says after noting how hard it was not seeing her son every day. “ ‘Mom, this is so we’ll have a better life.’ ” It’s meant to be a hopeful statement. Instead, at least if you’re a parent, it sort of breaks your heart.
And your heart might break a little again during a scene in which the band’s tour bus takes a detour to visit the Gary, Ind., childhood home of Michael Jackson. The moment is designed to not so subtly imply that perhaps Mindless Behavior could be the modern-day Jackson 5.
But watching those still young kids staring, awestruck, at the two-bedroom home that once sheltered the King of Pop, it’s impossible not to think about the lyrical question that Michael himself would ask, decades after his ascendance to icon status began: “Have you seen my childhood?”
Chaney is a freelance writer.
G. At AMC Hoffman, Potomac Mills, Rio and Capital Centre. Contains nothing objectionable. 86 minutes.