||Rob Cowan, Christian Arnold-Beutel, Jim O'Grady, David Reivers, Donald Paul Pemrick, Dean E, Fronk, Michael Emanuel and John F.S. Laing
||There’s absolutely no reason to see “Free Style,” which is probably the worst vehicle chosen by a young actor trying to break away from juvenile roles since Judd Nelson made “Blue City” (or was it Anthony Michael Hall electing “Out of Bounds”?). But if you should find yourself watching this wipeout starring Corbin Bleu of “High School Musical” fame, you can always while away the hour and a half playing “Count the Cliches.” Of course, they come so fast and furious that some will probably slip by you.
The movie is many things. It’s a formulaic sports story. A teen romance. A tale of a youngster searching for his long-absent father. Even a picture about racial differences. The problem is that none of them is any good, and together they’re ridiculous (as is the thought that it took eight producers to make the movie).
Bleu plays Cale Bryant, a hard-working high-school kid who’s a support to his mom (Penelope Ann Miller). He holds down two part-time jobs, as a pizza delivery guy and a clerk at an electronics store, while his mom struggles as the proprietor of the local diner. And he lovingly takes care of his younger sister Bailey (Madison Pettis), to whose queries about their mixed race he replies with pious platitudes.
Cale’s major interest, though, is in motocross. He races on the weekends in hopes of getting enough points to clinch the single spot open on the tour. He’s best buds with another racer, Justin (Jesse Moss), even though they’re in competition for the spot, and both are rivals to smug rich kid Derek (Matt Bellefleur). Unfortunately, Cale’s sponsor bounces him, and he’s left without a bike. Also without a girlfriend, since his long-time squeeze Crystal (Tegan Moss) dumps him for Derek.
That need leads him to a nearby ranch, where he discovers a wrecked cycle the owner will let him repair and use in return for help around the place. There he meets Alex (Sandra Echeverria), the beautiful daughter of self-made immigrant restaurateur Angel Lopez (Gustavo Febres); she’s caring for the horses. And romance is soon in the air.
As if all this weren’t enough, Cale locates the father who abandoned the family years before and makes contact with him. And did I mention his mom has a car crash?
The mixture of treacle, coming-of-age blarney and surprisingly anemic track action, of course, winds up with the big race, in which Cale races the bike he and his buddies have gotten in prime shape at the last minute with financial help from Alex’s dad. The outcome is foreordained, though the script throws a pitch that’s certainly unexpected. Unfortunately, it’s also utterly ridiculous.
Throughout Bleu, an engaging fellow in earlier outings, plays his part with an earnestness that’s positively deadly. The exuberance he showed in “High School Musical” is completely missing here. Of course, that’s explicable in view of the fact that Cale suffers more than Camille, but it sure makes for a downer. Of his co-stars, Miller is particularly tepid as the boy’s mom—who, in turns out, has acted very stupidly over the years (and actually hurt her children in the process). But Bellefleur’s smirking nastiness and Moss’s flightiness are no better, nor are Moss’s joviality and Scott Patey’s attempt at comic relief as a mechanically-minded teen. Echeverria is pretty, though—even if most of the guys seem to have greater interest in the look of their shiny cycles. Technically the movie is in every respect pedestrian, even if it is about motocross, and William Dear’s lackluster direction does nothing to conceal the modesty of the production.
One wishes Bleu all the best, but on the evidence of this picture his career might be a lot shorter than his hair.