Monday, January 28, 2008

Disney's Minutemen Reviewed

Last night, I watched Minutemen on the Disney Channel because Megan wanted to see it. The show was heavily hyped and aired three consecutive nights at the same time. They sure didn’t want anyone to miss it! The “bunch of nerds save the world” story, I believe, was meant to look intentionally familiar, like Ghostbusters for today’s young teens. Ah, but how much better Ghostbusters was!

There is some decent casting here, particularly in the three main characters. They are all outcasts for unusual and engaging reasons instead of the typical “just because they dress like nerds” excuse (though the cast is rife with bit players who rely wholly on that same prejudice, including one black nerd who is disturbingly buff when shirtless for a nerd). One is a child prodigy genius ala Jimmy Neutron, only not so bad. One is an outcast just for being a quiet loner. Now that is a hard role to pull off convincingly without simply under-acting, but the young man who did it seemed to make it work. The third outcast used to be one of the cool kids, but was rejected by them after a humiliating prank. There is some camaraderie between the three of them that does not come off as forced (the camaraderie was one of the best parts of Ghostbusters, though these boys are given none of the witty patter of the older movie). One of the best parts of the movie is the conflict in this third teen (note: I have no idea who any of these teen actors are, though they’re apparently heavily used on the Disney Channel, nor do I have much interest in learning more about them with even a simple Google search), who must choose whether to believe his old, cool friend was innocent or complicit in said prank. And then to choose between his old, cool friends and his new, nerdy friends.

And from there the movie spirals downward. Typical of anything from Nickelodeon or the Disney Channel these days (is there even a difference between them anymore?), every adult is treated like a moron who can’t function without the kids. There’s a scene where the principal is bumped into and knocked into the display he’s so proud of, causing him to wreck the source of his own pride, which was an old sight gag already 40 years ago. To inject suspense into the middle of the movie, the teens are followed by “men in black” government agents. The agents believe, for absolutely no good reason save to allow the kids to still wander freely, that they will learn more about the time travel machine by watching the kids than by, oh, say, confiscating it.

The science is astoundingly bad. Why would NASA be involved in a time travel project instead of a new agency? Simply so kids would have name recognition with the agency. How does time travel create a black hole again? Oh yeah, the movie doesn’t really want you to think about that too hard. Nor the fact that the black hole is simply a glorified sinkhole in a football field with a special FX light show coming out of it. Apparently, light can escape from this black hole, as can practically anything else, including a huge crowd of people standing mere feet from the “black hole” instead of running in panic. Actually, the thing in the movie -- a hole that is sucking the present back into the past – is more like a worm hole, but the producers must have decided that not enough kids would understand that term.

Okay, so the producers wanted a movie dumbed down so kids could understand it. I can follow that logic. But how does that explain the complete lack of intelligent female characters in the movie? Every female character in the movie is either a bully or a airhead (actually, the cheerleader might not have been intended to be just an airhead, given her central role in the sub-plots, but the young actress chosen was perhaps not up to projecting a complex personality). Given that the Disney Channel’s current cash cow is the Hannah Montana franchise (do they remember Mickey Mouse? Nah…), you would think that making such an un-friendly movie for girls would be a shot in the foot.

Or maybe I’m being too critical. I remember how good the Disney Channel used to be when they ACTUALLY showed movies that Walt Disney himself had a hand in making. Megan gave this movie a B. I gave it a C, and only that high based on the strength of the character-based subplots.

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