There's a dollop of charm and a deluge of formula in Sleepover, a teen-girls-on-a-mission comedy that desperately wants to be the John Hughes film for a new generation.
Hughes was the guiding force behind such benchmark '80s teen films as Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller's Day Off - films that captured the exuberance and heartache of the teenage years so perfectly that one had the suspicion Hughes must have been sitting at the lunchroom table next to you.
One gets a similar impression from Sleepover; doubtless, director Joe Nussbaum and writer Elisa Bell know their teens. But whereas Hughes had a knack for establishing formulas, or at least for injecting them with new life, Nussbaum and Bell are content to merely follow where others have trod. What's more, their characters are all surface gloss and their actors, given little to work with, simply walk through their paces.
Alexa Vega (Spy Kids) is Julie, instigator of the title sleepover, a cultural phenomenon parents of teenage girls are all too familiar with where a bunch of girls gather at a friend's house for a night of high-spirited bonding (it's really misnamed, as they rarely include much in the way of sleep). When she and three of her best friends are challenged by a rival quartet to a scavenger hunt, the winner to get a much-coveted prime lunch spot upon entering high school next year, the race is enjoined, parents and all other considerations be darned!
There are missions that involve pilfering a teen hunk's boxer shorts, getting a guy to buy them a drink at a bar (the girls are underage), dressing up a store mannequin, etc. All involve a little ingenuity and a lot of energy, offering plenty of chances to see young girls struggle with the age-old problems of too-restrictive parents, too-intrusive authority figures (cops, teachers) and a social pecking order that favors being cool and slinky (and, apparently, snide and intolerant) over all else.
There's a touching subplot involving Julie's pudgy friend, Yancy (Kallie Flynn Childress), and the unexpected dreamboat she finds. There's nothing new to the relationship, but there's plenty to like; their encounters are handled with a charm and grace that's largely missing from the rest of the film. And for a film like Sleepover, which relies on charm, grace and wit to separate it from the pack, that's a near-fatal flaw.
SUN SCORE: **
Starring Alexa Vega, Mika Boorem
Directed by Joe Nussbaum
Released by MGM
Rated PG (thematic elements involving teen dating, some sensuality and language)
Time 97 minutes