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Radio Rebel DVD Review

Radio Rebel DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Radio Rebel
Movie & DVD Details

Director: Peter Howitt / Writers: Erik Patterson, Jessica Scott (teleplay), Danielle Joseph (novel Shrinking Violet)

Cast: Debby Ryan (Tara Adams/Radio Rebel), Sarena Parmar (Audrey Sharma), Adam DiMarco (Gavin Morgan), Atticus Mitchell (Gabe LeViolet), Merritt Patterson (Stacy DeBane), Allie Bertram (Kim), Iain Belcher (Barry), Rowen Kahn (Larry), Nancy Robertson (Principal B. Moreno), Martin Cummins (Rob), April Telek (Delilah), Mercedes de la Zerda (Cami Q), Brenda M. Crichlow (Mrs. Brower), Keith MacKechnie (Janitor Margowsky)

Original Air Date: February 17, 2012 / Running Time: 90 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated (TV-G on air) / Songs List

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen (Original Broadcast Ratio) / Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: None; Closed Captioned; Extras Not Captioned
DVD Release Date: June 19, 2012 / Suggested Retail Price: $27.97
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9) / Clear Keepcase in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover

Buy Radio Rebel on DVD from Amazon.com / Buy the Radio Rebel soundtrack: MP3 Download • CD

Debby Ryan has not quite assumed the throne of the once clearly designated position of Disney Channel queen. Traditionally entrusted to the teenage girl whose sitcom drew the cable network's biggest ratings,
the tiara has been worn by the likes of Hilary Duff, Raven-Symonι, Miley Cyrus, and, most recently, Selena Gomez. With it comes opportunity: a music career, voiceover work, and even leading roles in theatrical films. Since "Wizards of Waverly Place" signed off earlier this year, the position appears to be vacant, but perhaps it will remain that way.

Disney Channel currently boasts three live-action sitcoms that draw about equal ratings. Ryan stars in one of them ("Jessie") and her seemingly chief competitor, Bridget Mendler, another ("Good Luck Charlie"). At the moment, neither young lady is being thrust into Miley-type superstardom and the constant press and scrutiny that come with it. That might be for the best, following potential successor Demi Lovato's meltdown. Plain old stardom finds Ryan and Mendler both being widely utilized by Disney. At the moment, though, each is sticking to the small screen and not yet lighting up Billboard's charts.

Ryan's break at Disney came around her 15th birthday, when she was cast as a lead on the Sprouse twins' "The Suite Life on Deck." That sitcom ran for three seasons and a once unheard of 71 episodes, but it never seemed to approach the popularity of "The Suite Life of Zack & Cody", the hotel show from which it was spun off. Fortunately for Ryan, when that series ended in 2011, she was still young enough to find work at the channel. "Jessie" (which is not to be confused with Christina Applegate's 1990s NBC sitcom "Jesse") puts Ryan in the title role, about the best television gig a teenage actor can find.

Tara Adams (Debby Ryan), a shy high school student by day, becomes the confident, beloved DJ Radio Rebel every night in this Disney Channel movie.

In between filming the first two seasons of "Jessie", Ryan made Radio Rebel, her third Disney Channel Original Movie and second as solo star
(following her Young Artist Award-nominated turn in 2010's 16 Wishes). The premise is simple and stupid and not far from the concept behind "Hannah Montana." Seattle teenager Tara Adams (Ryan) is a very shy girl. Secretly, though, she is also Radio Rebel, the anonymous host of the most popular show on the air, at least at her high school, where her many fans never for a second suspect a connection.

And why would they? At school, Tara can barely string a coherent sentence to anyone but her multicultural lifelong BFF, Audrey (Sarena Parmar). But broadcasting from her bedroom as Radio Rebel, Tara is confident and full of brilliant insights like "you are yourself" and "reject the status quo", wise words others unknowingly quote back to her. Tara's stepdad Rob (Martin Cummins), a character of minimal importance, discovers her secret while awkwardly trying to start a conversation with her. Rob works for SLAM FM and is immediately able to get her a real show at the station, one that will render her nickname more accurate, since she was apparently just a Podcast Rebel prior to this.

Her secret safe with Audrey, Rob, her wacky amateur facialist Mom (April Telek), and a fellow young DJ (Mercedes de la Zerda), Tara continues to flourish as Radio Rebel and some of that confidence even spills over to the rest of her life. On a theatre class assignment, she finds herself paired up with longtime crush Gavin (Adam DiMarco), a cute yet sensible guy in a band, and the stuck-up Stacy (Merritt Patterson), who has her eyes on the prize (Prom Queen). Love triangle, anyone?

Radio Rebel's popularity with the student body does not sit well with headphone-confiscating Principal Moreno (Nancy Robertson, whose game effort tries to make the movie's worst material work). On grounds that are never remotely clear, she vows to expel Radio Rebel once she finds out who it is. To expedite the process, she cancels the senior prom until someone confesses. That turns the students somewhat against their beloved host and creates pressure for Tara to come clean. Instead of doing that, though, Radio Rebel plots a reverse Prom, a "Morp", a dance with casual dress. Tara goes to great lengths to maintain her secret, which Stacy is convinced she has figured out.

Aspiring prom queen Stacy (Merritt Patterson) is determined to confirm and reveal Radio Rebel's secret identity. Tara's longtime crush, aspiring musician Gavin Morgan (Adam DiMarco) is a totally decent young man, I must say.

Radio Rebel is an insultingly bland, generic, and inane addition to Disney Channel's long line of puerile high school programming. It is adapted from the 2009 book Shrinking Violet, the debut of Danielle Joseph. If that novel had anything going for it, it has been lost in order to fit this tired mold. It probably goes without saying that there isn't a shred of realism to this movie. That removes any weight from its moral of not being afraid to be yourself. Every character on display is a clichι, from the excitable loyal best friend to the misunderstood bitchy antagonist to the hunk with a heart of gold. The closest we get to a non-archetype is in Stacy's rice cake-eating sidekick (Allie Bertram), who is written like a TV-G version of "Glee" airhead Brittany.

The enjoyable recent DCOMs Lemonade Mouth and Geek Charming have shown that it is extremely possible to tell a relevant, resonant, compelling story in this sanitized version of high school. But Radio Rebel doesn't have a single idea of its own worth sharing. That the movie thinks otherwise makes it especially offensive in its finale, as it applies the old "I am Spartacus" bit to Radio Rebel in defiance of the principal's ludicrous proposed punishment. When you think about how many struggling writers would kill to get on television, a shallow, vapid production like this makes you mad that Erik Patterson and Jessica Scott (alums of Warner's direct-to-video Cinderella Story series) squander their chance to make an impact on youths and give them characters and scenarios of substance and value. Sure, a paycheck is a paycheck and millions will tune in whether or not it's any good, but take some pride and show some personality. It will make the experience that much better for viewers and critics and those hopeful young actors who will live with this credit on their resume and a clip in their demo reel.

Nerdy fraternal twins and super fans Barry (Iain Belcher) and Larry (Rowen Kahn) go to great lengths to figure out which of their classmates is Radio Rebel. Nasty Principal Moreno (Nancy Robertson) does not take kindly to SLAM FM's lunch time jam van stunt.

It used to be pretty easy to know the difference between a Disney Channel Original Movie and a movie that Disney Channel was simply premiering. The line has blurred a bit in recent years, especially with Disney allowing other studios to handle the home video releases. Ryan's 16 Wishes, for instance, was and was not advertised as a Disney Channel Original Movie, depending on the country. Radio Rebel didn't seem to get any distinction, but the same production company, MarVista Entertainment, is behind this movie and now the same distributor, Image Entertainment, is as well. While Image issued 16 Wishes on both DVD and Blu-ray, Radio Rebel gets a DVD-only release, which comparable TV movies' low Blu-ray sales ranks on Amazon.com indicates is a sound business decision.

Watch a scene from Radio Rebel:

VIDEO and AUDIO

Radio Rebel is presented in the modern television standards of 1.78:1 widescreen picture and Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. Both aspects are satisfactory, though not especially great. The anamorphic picture is clean, but soft and colors are a tad pale (which seems to be a standard Image Entertainment DVD quality). The English soundtrack is very much anchored in the front channels, only expanding to the rear speakers for select music (which includes glaring knock-offs of Herbie Hancock and the Mission: Impossible theme). Subtitles are sadly lacking, but the disc makes up for that a little with the inclusion of English closed captions on the movie.

Debby Ryan and Sarena Parmar ask and answer "Who is Radio Rebel?" Rowen Kahn and Iain Belcher sing Debby Ryan's praises in unison, as rehearsed.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, and PACKAGING

Radio Rebel is treated to a somewhat loaded DVD, which is unusual both for Disney Channel and Image Entertainment. Keeping the target audience in mind, the extras are short, light, and focused on the young actors.

Presented in a low frame rate, the first four offer a standard mix of cast comments, behind-the-scenes looks, and movie clips.

"Who is Radio Rebel?" (5:43) describes the movie as if you didn't just watch it. "From Prom to Morp" (3:05) collects the cast's prom stories. "Rockin' Out with Radio Rebel" (2:47) gathers actors' thoughts on the significance of music in the movie and in life. "On the Set with Debby Ryan" (2:17) is not the production tour you'd expect, but a chance for the star's cast mates to sing her praises, some with synchronized responses.

A moviegoer endorses "Radio Rebel" in front of a Journey 2" standee and a young man putting on his coat at the movie's standard theater premiere. Everyone's happy in this alternate ending that changes nothing.

"Red Carpet Rebel" (1:37) shares pictures and video from the movie's Los Angeles premiere (presumably its only theatrical showing), including some actor sentiments and moviegoer reactions.

A deleted scenes reel (1:52) consists of just two cuts, one prominently featuring Tara's BFF and the other an alternate closing scene.

Atticus Mitchell's giggles prove to be contagious in the blooper reel. Debby Ryan dances in front of promotional graffiti in her "We Got the Beat" music video.

A long blooper reel (8:07) captures Ryan and her co-stars forgetting and flubbing their lines and being goofy between and during takes.

A music video for Debby Ryan's cover of The Go-Gos' "We Got the Beat" (3:32) uses only a bit of movie footage, favoring original visuals of Ryan and other teens rocking out with graffiti.
The last minute excessively goes to credits acknowledging everyone involved with this short.

Extras come to a close with a Radio Rebel trailer (1:14).

The disc opens with a trailer for Image Entertainment's previous Debby Ryan Disney Channel Original Movie, 16 Wishes.

The menu moves clips from the movie past the cover's cast shots. Submenus are static but scored.

Radio Rebel takes a fairly extreme step to promote Ryan's kindred title, utilizing the reverse side of the clear keepcase's cover art to advertise 16 Wishes. Sadly, this DVD lacks the Silly Bandz of that release. It does however include an embossed cardboard slipcover.

Spoiler warning: all ends well at the "Morp" for the entire Lincoln Bay High School senior class.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Radio Rebel is as formulaic, unimaginative, and forgettable as children's high school movies get. Though it reverses a recent upswing in Disney Channel Original Movies, it is very much in line with the network's long tradition of fluff. At least, Debby Ryan fans get to see her play a new role and it's not as if this movie will seem much worse than the cookie cutter programming they're used to.

Image's DVD is fine. A bunch of the short extras could have been combined into one featurette, but the varied, glossy supplements and adequate feature presentation should appease anyone who expects to watch this movie more than once. That's not the best use of your time or money, but hey, you're free to spend each as you like. After all, being yourself is all that Radio Rebel could ask of you.

Buy Radio Rebel from Amazon.com: DVD / Soundtrack: MP3 Download • CD

Buy from Amazon.com

Related Reviews:
Debby Ryan: 16 Wishes • The Suite Life on Deck: Anchors Away! • Wizards on Deck with Hannah Montana • The Search for Santa Paws
Recent Disney Channel Original Movies: Geek Charming (with Shake It Up) • Lemonade Mouth
Written by Erik Patterson and Jessica Scott: A Cinderella Story: Once Upon a Song
New: The Princess Diaries & The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement • Spider-Man • The Secret World of Arrietty
Prom • Footloose • Clueless • 10 Things I Hate About You • The Twilight Saga: Eclipse • Prom Night • Monte Carlo • Fred: The Movie

Radio Rebel Songs List: The Barrymores - "Can't Stop the Rock", Vibrolux - "So Cool", Shealeigh - "What Can I Say", The Whereabouts - "Afterthought", Mike Liorti - "Turn It All Around", The Bicycles - "Oh Yes, It's Love", Debby Ryan - "We Got the Beat", The Trews - "Stray", Kari Kimmel - "Brand New Day", Mike Liorti - "We So Fly", Champion - "Backing Off", Tupelo Honey - "We Are", Two Hours Traffic - "No Advances", Fat Sue - "Like You Love Her", Debby Ryan featuring Chase Ryan and Chad Hively - "We Ended Right", Martin Acosta - "Now I Can Be the Real Me", Salme Dahlstrom featuring Cole - "Ooh Ooh Yeah", Above Envy - "My Revolution", Keith and Renee - "Revolution", Central Park featuring Maylee Todd - "Touch the Ground"

Buy the Radio Rebel Soundtrack: Soundtrack: Amazon.com MP3 Download • Amazon.com CD • iTunes Download

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Reviewed June 18, 2012.



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