"HSM3" will please fan base but won't win converts

Cast member Zac Efron from the movie "High School Musical 3: Senior Year" poses for a portrait in Los Angeles October 12, 2008. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - The enormous success of “High School Musical” and its sequel on Disney Channel made it practically inevitable that the studio would try to recycle the concept for feature films. If producers can make movie versions of such ancient TV shows as “Starsky and Hutch” and “The A-Team,” it’s a no-brainer to reproduce a kid-friendly franchise that scored phenomenal ratings in this millennium.

For “High School Musical 3: Senior Year,” Disney has re-assembled the cast, along with director-choreographer Kenny Ortega and screenwriter Peter Barsocchini, to provide the same mix of innocent teen romance and eye-popping musical numbers. The result unfortunately has the blandness of a mediocre TV sitcom, but that won’t deter young audiences, who should turn the movie into a major hit at the box office after it opens Friday (October 24).

The movie begins with a blast of energy as basketball star Troy (Zac Efron) not only leads his team to victory but also belts out a song while he’s shooting hoops. When the story kicks in, well ... it never really does kick in.

Once again, the kids are preparing a school musical, but because it’s senior year, they’re also lining up prom dates and thinking about college. The tensions that arise -- should Troy go to the University of Arizona to play basketball or to Juilliard on a music scholarship? -- aren’t exactly the stuff of high drama. The only conflict is again provided by scheming rich girl Sharpay (Ashley Tisdale), who hopes to usurp Troy’s girlfriend, Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens), both on and offstage. Sharpay never represents a serious threat, though this time she’s been given an Eve Harrington-type assistant clawing at her heels.

Without any riveting plot complications, we’re reduced to waiting for the next musical number to jump-start the picture. The songs are an engaging melange of rock, rap and Broadway-style ballads, but they aren’t truly memorable. The choreographic high point is a rousing number in an auto junkyard.

But all of the actors have talent to burn. Efron gets plenty of chances to bat his baby blues, and he sings and dances boisterously. Hudgens adds warmth during their duets. It’s too bad that the adults, such as the parents and the school drama teacher, have such one-dimensional roles.

The bright colours are appropriate to the bubblegum plot. But without more narrative punch or more variety in the musical numbers, the picture quickly grows tedious. Even within the confines of G-rated fluff, it could have been a lot sassier.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter