"StarStruck" is geared toward the same audience that goes for "Hannah Montana," "iCarly," "Sonny with a Chance" and other sitcoms aimed at tweens and their younger siblings, so I didn't expect there'd be much here besides formula pap. To an extent, that's true. But the formula, surprisingly, is the adult romantic comedy.
Now I don't mean that Disney has gone off the PG meter into pay-per-view land--only that this cute film has much more in common with "Roman Holiday" (1953) or "The Prince and Me" (2004) than it does any of the Disney or Nickelodeon TV series that plumb the narrative shallows with over-the-top characters and silly situations.
"StarStruck" is a by-the-book romantic comedy with a framework that's similar to "Ella Enchanted" (2004). In that Anne Hathaway film, Ella was a Cinderella character whose sister was president of the Prince Char fan club. And while sis did all she could to hook up with the prince, a chance collision (he ran into her while fleeing fans) put the prince in contact with Ella instead. And Ella was the only one who didn't seem to be subject to the prince's charms.
Same thing here, though "StarStruck" is set in contemporary times and comes with an additional message to fans about how difficult the lives of their superstar heroes can be because of paparazzi. In "StarStruck," a Disney Channel made-for-TV movie, Sara (Maggie Castle) is ga-ga for Justin Bieber-style pop sensation Christopher Wilde (Sterling Knight, "Sonny with a Chance"). Her plain and sensible sister, Jessica (Danielle Campbell) thinks she's off her nut. What sets the plot in motion is the parents (Beth Littleford, Dan O'Connor) announcing that the teen girls must go with them on a family vacation to visit their grandmother in Los Angeles. Sara is thrilled because that's Christopher Wilde land. She knows where he lives, eats, hangs out, and surfs, and as president of the fan club she fancies that he can't wait to meet her.
When Sara cons her sister into driving her to a club where Wilde reportedly will appear at a birthday part of his girlfriend (Chelsea Staub, "Jonas"), she's the one who gets to meet the singer when he knocks her loopy while fleeing the paparazzi and decides to take her to a doctor. That sets up a road trip in which the two, who grate on each other, learn about each other, and ultimately (and I'm not giving anything away here--this is how romantic comedies work) fall for each other. Sort of. It's a classic "opposites attract" story that follows the romantic comedy formula exactly, and does a pretty impressive job of giving the genre a 'tween makeover--especially considering that it's a made-for-TV movie.
Knight plays the same kind of slightly conceited, spoiled rich kid he does on "Sonny with a Chance," and here manages to make the transition to likable--not an easy feat when you have a face and a past screen history of being the smarmy guy. New to Disney is Campbell, who previously appeared in four episodes of "Prison Break." She hits the antagonism and resentment button a little too hard and a little too often, but the overall effect is one that the target audience will buy. Parents who watch this with their kids will find it more enjoyable than they expected, and for that we probably have to thank writers Barbara Johns and Annie DeYoung ("Princess Protection Program"), who keep the over-the-top characters and scenes to a minimum. And veteran TV director Michael Grossman ("Dirty Sexy Money," "Zoey 101," "Grey's Anatomy") keeps things moving, honing in on the developing relationship and leaving everything else out. That's both good and bad--good, of course, because things keep moving crisply along, but bad because there are plenty of unanswered questions. Even when Grandma's car gets "borrowed" and subsequently trashed, a straight cut moves the plot forward without much acknowledgment of the incident. What's more, Jessica's ambivalence toward singer Christopher takes on the quality of temperamental mood swings because just when you think she's softening a bit and warming up to Christopher, suddenly she turns shrewish again. Whether that's the result of direction or interpretation, it's a little illogical.
Still, for a made-for-TV movie, "StarStruck" is more enjoyable than most, and the adult romantic comedy formula transposed onto a 'tween template makes it more palatable for parents to watch with their children.
Disney Channel fans will enjoy seeing another "Sonny with a Chance" co-star (Brandon Smith as Christopher's best-friend/main man Stubby) sing a few songs and function as a more believable best friend than most of the foils we see. And this contemporary fairy tale throws in a few subtle messages--like it's not only okay for Grandma to have a boyfriend, but it's okay that he's black.
If you have a "tweener who's asking for this title, make sure you buy the 2-Disc Extended Edition, which comes with a full-length soundtrack CD. The music is catchy (though heavily overprocessed, as is the case with any singer these days who's under the age of 25) and you're probably going to have to buy it anyway.
What can I say? You expect the production values to be solid when it's a Disney product, and once again they are. The video has rich colors, only a limited amount of grain, and some pretty decent definition for a DVD. "StarStruck" is presented in 1.78:1 aspect ratio, "enhanced" for 16x9 television sets.
The audio is a rollicking and robust Dolby Digital 5.1 that really comes alive with the music--and there are a lot of full-length songs in this film. The bass has a little thump to it, and the mid-range and high treble notes are bright and cheery. French and Spanish language tracks are provided, along with French and Spanish subtitles.
To give you some indication of how integral music is to this film, all of the bonus features are music-related. You can choose to watch it in karaoke mode, and there's a Sterling Knight "StarStruck" music video, an Anna Margaret "Something about the Sunshine" music video, a Stubby "Party Up" music video, and the bonus CD with 12 songs: "StarStruck," "Shades," "Hero," "Something about the Sunshine (Duet)," "What You Mean to Me," "Party Up," "Got to Believe (Bonus Track), "Hero" (Unplugged), "Something about the Sunshine (Solo)," "New Boyfriend," "Welcome to Hollywood," and "Make a Movie."
For a teen movie, "StarStruck" has great music, a solid romantic-comedy backbone, and decent performances. Only the illogical moments and shortcuts keep it from being an unqualified success.