A magical surfboard transports a teenage girl and her boyfriend into his favourite movie.
Jeffrey Hornaday, 2013
The last days of teen surfer Mack’s (Maia Mitchell) perfect summer vacation are coming to an end; long days spent catching waves with her boyfriend Brady (Ross Lynch) and hanging out with her grandfather Big Poppa (Barry Bostwick) making way for school days. Just before they have to go back to school, Mack’s aunt Antoinette (Suzanne Cryer) arrives and drops a bombshell on Brady: Mack must move to the east coast for school, as per their agreement after her parents died. Mack breaks up with Brady to make the transition easier, but she’s torn. The next day she takes Big Poppa’s magic surfboard out to try to surf a 40-foot wave. Worried, Brady goes after her. Both are hit on the head and wake up in Brady and Big Poppa’s favourite movie: a West Side Story-meets-Gidget beach musical where the surfers and bikers fight for dominion over a beach diner while singing. Mack is unimpressed and wants to leave, but Brady struggles to hold onto the magic – and his girlfriend – as long as he can. Their presence in the movie interferes with the natural order of the plot, and soon the movie’s star Lela (Grace Phipps) is falling for Brady, while her leading man Tanner (Garrett Clayton) is entranced by modern girl Mack.
This high-concept movie for tweens feels a little like High School Musical in its unbridled enthusiasm. It’s silly and high-energy, with the cast fully embracing the cheese factor, though the seriously uneven talent across the board makes for a less engaging outing than its musical predecessor. The film takes a nostalgic, but not uncritical, look at the 60s films that inspire it while filling scenes with bright colours and middling musical numbers. Embracing the silliness works well when the plot falls down, although the movie’s decision to focus on chemistry-free Mack and Brady at the expense of the much more talented Grace Phipps works to its detriment. Then again, Garrett Clayton as her supposed leading man has all the humanity of a Ken doll; he’s like a shiny plastic version of Zac Efron without the talent. (See Hairspray Live for further proof.) It’s saying something when minor background characters are more interesting to watch than the leads. Ross Lynch puts in a valiant effort (he sings the film’s musical highlight Cruisin’ for a Bruisin’) (Pentatonix sing it better), but Maia Mitchell seems completely out of her element. Meanwhile, Barry Bostwick lends name recognition only, seemingly bored out of his mind as he runs lines.
The best thing Teen Beach Movie boasts is choreography by hip-hop genius Christopher Scott. Professional dancers pepper the film’s supporting cast in order to support the non-dancer leads, and some of the Busby Berkeley-esque dancing surfboard scenes border on art. During the Can’t Stop Singing number, even Lynch and Mitchell’s lacklustre singing efforts can’t spoil a sprightly, slickly choreographed dance that flows with Scott’s signature liquid moves. The film moves at a brisk pace, never allowing its young audience to get bored and giving its characters little room to develop; the resolution to all the plot’s mounting dramas happens in a rush at the end of the film. The third act is a rolling stone wildly swerving to avoid plot holes in its mad rush to wrap up the storylines, and some of the most interesting ideas – biker gang member Lela’s desire to be a surfer as Mack tries to instil the 60s girls with a little feminism, for instance, or the build of friendship between the bikers and the surfers, which is never really addressed. Still, it’s not totally lacking in charm, and it’s got enough songs to keep the momentum going.
Teen Beach Movie on IMDb