The 'tweenybopper moviegoer is unlikely to be savvy to the rote, one-dimensional nature of clichés like catty in-crowd queen bees, cardboard cut-out dream boys admired from a distance, and underdog cliques of pretty, outcast Everygirls -- but that's no excuse for building a whole picture around such threadbare characters and the inevitable plots that go with them.
Yet that's exactly what happens in "Sleepover," the latest example of how Hollywood can strip a halfway decent idea of any originality by saddling it with tedious stereotypes and the false hope of easy, prepackaged solutions for young girls' adolescent problems.
It's a comedy in which four "average" junior high girls (Alexa Vega, Mika Boorem, Scout Taylor-Compton and Kallie Flynn Childress), typically nervous about being accepted, are challenged by four shallow, cruel, fashionista cheerleader types (Sara Paxton and three indistinguishable minions) to a one-night, sneak-out-of-the-house scavenger hunt. The winners get to eat lunch at the "cool" table when they go on to high school next year.
Completely failing to run with the smarter possibilities presented by the adventurous premise or develop the characters personalities in any significant way, writer Elisa Bell ("Vegas Vacation") and director Joe Nussbaum (who made his name with the ingenious short "George Lucas In Love") manage only to scare up a few funny lines and stick these wholly generic girls in a handful of awkward, passably amusingly situations. Vega ("Spy Kids"), for example, gets trapped in a bland hunk's bathroom shower, with the water running, while trying to steal a pair of his boxer shorts.
But from the opening scene to the closing credits, the movie is nothing but cliché (Vega's mom is stern but loving, her dad is a dope and her brother is weird) after cliché ("How did Stacie get so popular anyway? We used to be best friends.") after cliché (during the treasure hunt they're chased by a inept rent-a-cop authority figure) after cliché (the lonely fat girl finds a lonely fat boy to love her) after cliché (the climax is at a school dance -- even though school is out for the summer).
Vega and Boorem ("Blue Crush," "Along Came a Spider") -- the two least forgettable stars -- almost inadvertently infuse "Sleepover" with a hint of sweet, sassy spirit that makes the picture sit-through-able for anyone reluctantly roped into attending with the 10- to 12-year-old girls who will no doubt be itching to see it.
But the fact is, the filmmakers could have gone for more and just flat-out didn't bother. This is obvious from the artificially staged atmosphere of nearly every scene, and it's reflected in the fact that -- through laziness, omission, and failure to follow up on themes -- "Sleepover" actually serves to reinforce the very selfish, status-symbol, stick-with-your-own-kind teen culture it's meant to decry.
Run time: 89 mins
In Theaters: Friday 9th July 2004
Box Office USA: $8.1M
Box Office Worldwide: 105
Distributed by: MGM
Production compaines: Troma Entertainment
Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 15%
Fresh: 15 Rotten: 82
IMDB: 5.2 / 10
Director: Joe Nussbaum
Also starring: Alexa Vega, Mika Boorem, Scout Taylor-Compton, Kally Flynn Childress, Brie Larson, Sara Paxton, Sam Huntington, Jane Lynch, Jeff Garlin, Steve Carell, Eileen April Boylan, Hunter Parrish, Shane Hunter
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