This third-rate direct-to-video knockoff from third-rate direct-to-video knockoff factory the Asylum is instructively terrible; it shows, in its abject awfulness, why the original High School Musical movies weren’t so bad after all. The High School Musical franchise has been called insipid, sanitized, pandering, manipulative, mindless and cheap: this is what those qualities really look like, and it comes wrapped up in a mockbuster-style invocation of the earlier film’s name.
After all, at least you had to think about High School Musical‘s plot before you realized it didn’t make any sense. Here, the myriad logical errors are so blatant a five-year-old would catch them, and the entire exercise is such a naked contrivance that it’s impossible to become invested in the story no matter how thoroughly you turn your brain off.
Also, the original High School Musical didn’t have much of a budget, but at least Disney felt the need to meet a basic standard of professional competence even in what was supposed to be a throwaway TV movie. This movie clearly doesn’t care about professionalism, from the total lack of extras in most of the scenes that makes it look like the film takes place after an apocalypse, to blatant logical inconsistencies like having a third choir cancel at the last minute, but with only enough chairs in the tiny auditorium they used to accommodate the two choirs that actually ended up performing. This film is as low-budget and inept as an Ed Wood movie, only without any of the camp value.
The characters in High School Musical weren’t the most substantial or intelligent figures ever seen in a musical, but they had charm, with winningly sincere heroes and amusingly campy villains. These characters are self-pitying whiners who see themselves as the victim in every situation and never give a thought to anyone else’ suffering…particularly damning in what is supposed to be a Christian film. Seriously, these are some of the most unappealing characters you’ll ever see, gloating over their victories, turning on their supposed friends for petty reasons, and generally acting about as much at odds with Jesus’ actual philosophies as you can without actually being a mass murderer.
And at least the High School Musical songs were if nothing else both catchy and lively. This score is one of the dullest ever heard in a musical…it makes the worst Broadway scores I’ve reviewed seem stellar by comparison. And if you thought High School Musical‘s lyrics were cliched, you wouldn’t believe how generic the words these characters express themselves with are (“I’ve got dreams/I’ve got goals/and pretty soon they’re all gonna be mine”, “I’ve never been so scared, I feel so unprepared”).
The only song with any personality is “You’re Not the Boss”, and it’s just two obnoxious brats having an immature musical shouting match, which is what passes for personality in this movie. A by-the-numbers pop-gospel version of the tired chestnut “This Little Light of Mine” winds up being the highlight of the score simply because it’s the only decent song that’s sung in the whole movie (and if you want an effective use of that song, you’re much better off watching Black Snake Moan).
The worst part is that the movie doesn’t even have any interest in the religious faith it’s attempting to co-opt. The characters’ behavior might not raise eyebrows, given that many professed Christians do act like this, but when the film’s preacher speaks in generic self-help slogans and the few Bible quotes they included sound like the results of a Google search for platitudinous buzzwords (“Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion” is apparently a real Bible quote, but it sounds like a fake in the film, especially since they take it completely out of context), you’d think some of the Bible-thumpers would figure out they’re being manipulated (especially given that the studio that made it has released a long string of raunchy sex comedies).
This film is cheap, insulting, and ultimately barely more than an ugly curiosity, and I wouldn’t have bothered to review it if it didn’t shine a new light on the virtues of the High School Musical franchise by showing what they easily could have been. It’s kind of the Song of Norway to their The Sound of Music, and I almost recommend watching it to give you a new perspective on the franchise it’s ripping off. Almost.