Well, we all needed Victoria Justice to play one last tormented teenager. We all needed to hear her blurt out “What the F?” like Nickelodeon or The Disney Channel wasn’t there to tell her not to.
“The Outcasts” unleashes Justice, Eden Sher of “The Middle” (aka Mayim Bialik, The Next Generation) and assorted TV teens on a PG-13 high school comedy about bullying, bully baiting, boys, revenge and blowback.
You’d expect no less from the kids at Richard Milhous Nixon High, suburban land of “self-segregated cliques and stereotypical angst” — in movie terms, a sea of pretty, white or at least almost entirely non-black faces.
Justice plays Jodi, a senior who sounds, dresses and seems to think like a 20something wishing she was playing “the cool chick just out of college” or something, anything more removed from “Victorious” than “The Outcasts.”
Sher is narrator-Mindy, MIT-bound while Jodi, daughter of a widowed-dad (Frank Whaley, remember him?) is headed “for a minimum wage job so that I can join the 21st century’s version of serfdom.”
“When did you start speaking like Trotsky?”
Mindy has goals and expectations, and Mr. Samuels, a supportive science teacher. Jodi? She’s seeing the real world through her postal-carrier dad, whom she calls “Herb.” She sings her self-penned songs to a non-existent online audience and fumes.
So she’s NOT the one who suggests, “I think we should ask Whitney (“Queen Beeyotch”) to stop torturing us.” And that “cool kids” party they’ve been invited to? Admiral Ackbar knows, and so does Jodi.
Blonde Whitney (Claudia Lee, wicked) did not get to be queen without mastering the epic, unprovoked burn. Of the Beautiful People, only Dave (Avan Jogia) with the rock star hair seems irked at “Adolf Whit-ler’s” hatefulness. Every generation needs its non-WASP Andrew McCarthy.
“Big Bang Theory” and her “frizzy-haired lapdog” cannot be Whitney’s equals. Not having it. Thus begins the “beating those fascists at their own game” where they “overthrow generations of ingrained high school social strata” to have their revenge.
The plan? “Unionize the outcasts.” Just like legions of such comedies before them.
I’m quoting lots of snippets of dialogue here because that’s a strength of this otherwise lowbrow-slow-going formula teen comedy.
“How’s it going, guys?”
“Well, we haven’t been roofied, yet.”
Kudos to screenwriters Dominique Ferrari, Suzanne Wrubel for giving the ladies, at least, something funny to say — which Justice, with her bangs and deep voice not cannot hide the fact that she’s 25 and too sitcom-stilted to not hit the comebacks, punchlines and pithy aphorisms entirely too hard.
They people the “outcasts” with the usual mix of too-pretty but ignored, overachiever, black revolutionary, emos, band nerds, goody two-shoes and virginal misfits these movies ALWAYS serve up.
No, not all the outcasts are the same. But in the movies, they’re all “types,” the same types. Here, with rare exceptions, they all live “like rich white people.”
Asian “how to get rich by 18” stereotypes, “angry black girl” stereotypes, bespectacled sci-fi nerds, bearded “fantasy cosplay” kings, we’ve got’em all. And they must be recruited in their native “tribe” and habitat. Kind of funny. Even if the scenes are too on-the-nose and hit their laugh-lines entirely too hard.
Virginia, the over-achiever with tech savvy, is played by Ashley Rickards of “Killer App” and TV’s “Awkward. “Ted McGinley is Principal Whitmore because, of course he is.
Nothing too deep here, even though the writers could have angled for homophobic cruelty or anti-Semitic ostracizing. I mean, our heroines are named Shellenberger and Lipschitz — sounds like a Boca Raton law firm, or an NPR co-hosting team.
The payoffs, instead, are bland, perfunctory and cutesy. Big sports movie speeches, fist-bumps of acknowledgement, and we’ve got ourselves an Emo/Goth/Nerd/Smart Kids Rebel Alliance. A bullying in progress? Who you gonna call? Um, text?
Then the Mean Girls (lots of Tina Fey shoutouts) Strike Back. And then “We’re becoming the things we used to hate,” which to be fair, teen comedies like this usually leave out. Not always, but usually.
The sentiments and the story arc are perfectly supportable, the execution? Slow, slack, humorless and lifeless. “The Outcasts” stops dead in its tracks at the midway point and never recovers.
There are film formulas, and then there are production line scripts like “The Outcasts” — scene by scene, character by character cut-and-paste jobs, add “fill in up to the minute snarky dialogue,” and start filming.
“The Outcasts” climaxes early, and heads to prom late. Because of course it does. Whatever sentiments it reaches for feel shoehorned in.
One last gripe, there ought to be a law against opening/establishing shots of yet another pillared portico entrance of Anytown High School for high school movies. Seriously, 40 years and hundreds of versions of it, enough.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for crude and suggestive content, language and some teen partying
Cast: Victoria Justice, Eden Sher, Ashley Rickards, Katie Chang, Avan Jogia, Claudia Lee, Will Peltz, Peyton List
Running time: 1:34