The American Mall

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Airdate: 9-11 p.m. Monday, Aug. 11 (MTV)

Has MTV become Disney, Too?

You might guess that from "The American Mall," a movie so like Disney's "High School Musical" that it even boasts that it comes from the same executive producers (Barry Rosenbush and Bill Borden). More importantly, "Mall" also has choreographer Bonnie Story as well as music by David Lawrence.

And, just like Disney, MTV is doing some heavy-duty marketing, including making the DVD and soundtrack available the day after the movie airs.

There is artistry in "Mall," but its aroma is often overwhelmed by the smell of commerce. Director Shawn Ku uses split screens (I counted 12 at one point), bright colors and exuberant dance to change the common mall into a teen wonderland of lights, drama and secret passages. But all of this is done in service to a story that is terribly familiar.

In "Mall," Nina Dobrev is Vanessa Hudgens, Rob Mayes is Zac Efron and Autumn Reeser is Ashley Tisdale. True, "Mall" raises the stakes a bit. In this movie, the villainess not only tries to steal the guy, she also wants to crush the heroine's family business.

Dobrev plays Ally, conflicted daughter of a mall music store owner. She falls for Joey (Mayes), one of the four night janitors from a rock group whose instruments were stolen. However, Madison (Reeser), the spoiled but misunderstood daughter of the mall owner, has other plans. She sees Joey as part of a marketing plan for her own chain of boutique clothing stores, starting with the space occupied by Ally's mom.

Mayes, a sort of Fabio Lite, is more than a little stiff in the role, but teen and tween viewers will not be looking for another Brando. Dobrev nails the part of the angst-filled musician, and her mall friends (Bianca Collins, Rodney To and Bresha Webb) provide welcome and essential comedy relief.

The most complex part of "Mall" is the question it raises about MTV strategy. Although it might be a bridge to bring a new generation of tweens to MTV, why risk alienating older teens and young adults who might feel like they accidentally clicked on Nickelodeon?

The musical clearly is experiencing a revival, and MTV doesn't want to be left at will call. Still, there's no reason to blur the lines with Disney or ABC Family when a more mature story and sophisticated sound could have greater appeal to the target demo.

Production: T&C Pictures in association with Borden & Rosenbush Entertainment and MTV Studios. Cast: Nina Dobrev, Rob Mayes, Autumn Reeser, Yassmin Alers, Al Sapienza, Wade Allain-Marcus, Neil Haskell, David Baum, Brooke Lyons, Blythe Auffarth, Bresha Webb, Bianca Collins, Rodney To. Executive producers: Barry Rosenbush, Arata Matsushima, Lisa Silfen, Jeff Yapp. Producers: Bill Borden, Terry Spazek. Director: Shawn Ku. Writer: Margaret Oberman. Story: Tomas Romero, P.J. Hogan. Director of photography: Matthew Williams; Production designer: Christopher Demuri; Editor: Don Brochu; Music: David Lawrence; Choreography: Bonnie Story, Shawn Ku; Set decorator: Les Boothe; Casting: Dori Zuckerman; Co-executive producer: Leslie Belzberg.

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