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© 2004, MGM
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Fourteen-year-old Julie (Alexa Vega, "Spy Kids") has just faced the last day of junior high and she wants to celebrate with her friends (Mika Boreem, Scout Taylor-Compton and Kallie Flynn Childress) with a sleepover filled with pranks, pizza, and dancing to music from the Spice Girls (do 14 year-olds still do this?). The evening takes a turn when a clique of popular girls challenge Julie and her friends to an overnight scavenger hunt, forcing Julie to sneak out of the house, vandalize an Old Navy store, outmaneuver a security officer (unfunny Steve Carell), and meet up with a dreamy high school boy (a dense Sean Faris) in an effort to win the ultimate prize: dibs on the popular lunch table when school starts again in the fall.

"Sleepover" (IMDb listing) is a movie made exclusively for the tween girl demographic, and it almost seems wasteful to plunge into any depths discussing it. It's lightweight, fast-paced, and features a young cast obviously having fun with the material. Directed by first time filmmaker Joe Nussbaum (his short, "George Lucas in Love," made a splash five long years ago), "Sleepover" has the nostalgic aftertaste of '80s classics "Sixteen Candles" and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," but all the materialism and faux punk chic of 2004. "Sleepover" might seem harmless, but I assure you, it isn't.

Take for example the lead character Julie. A nicely groomed suburban girl who is in the starring role in the cinema of her own mind, Julie is trapped in a bottomless pit of teenage self-absorption. She's selfish in her feelings when her best friend (Boreem) announces she's moving away, thinks her parents are killing her cool by actually caring about her, and her boy-crazy desires fog her self-respect at every turn. Julie's main quest in "Sleepover" is to win the coveted popular girl lunch table. That's it. There's no last minute switch by Nussbaum to have the character open her eyes to the world around her, or even show some decency to all the lovely people that are trying to help her. Julie stays this monster of a teenager through the entire film, undercut only slightly by star Alexa Vega's friendly performance. Not that turning the film into an episode of "7th Heaven" was necessary to inject some basic principles into the fun, but when the summation of "Sleepover" is, "ff I'm popular, I'm happy and I'll find love," then some serious warning sirens are set off.

Now, it's been many years since I was a 14 year-old girl, and Nussbaum's recreation of that special time in a young lady's life is no doubt accurate to a certain degree. But the appalling lack of interest by the director in making these girls appealing is either some of the worst filmmaking seen this year, or some type of subversive, mad genius creation the world isn't ready for yet. By the end of the picture, when Nussbaum matches his cliched overweight teen girl character (sweetly played by Childress) with an obese boy over their shared love of brownies (good lord!), or when Julie realizes that this night of madcap fun wasn't really about her wanting to be popular at school, but more that she just wants a cute boyfriend, "Sleepover" starts triggering the gag reflex.

Filmfodder Grade: D+

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