Dir Nick Moore, UK, 2008, 98 mins.
Hannah Montana meets St Trinians in Wild Child, Working Title's oddly-unconvincing stab at the Clueless end of the teen market - a project broad-based enough to make tween competitor Angus, Thongs And Perfect Snogging feel arthouse.
Working Title's legendary professionalism seems to haveshifted down a gear here - Wild Child is slick, but not as tight as might be expected. Despite a fun premise, it's often surprisingly aimless, and Emma Roberts flounders around in the lead role in a way that leads to a whole new appreciation of Lindsay Lohan's charms in similar, punchier vehicles.
Wild Child bows in the UK August 15 when legions of bored teenagers on their summer holidays will presumably be motivated into giving it a decent opening weekend. Solid cast names including Natasha Richardson and Shirley Henderson may attract older viewers (ie, wallet-holders) looking for a seal of quality, while Tom Pettyfer (Alex Ryder) can't hurt business, but word of mouth won't be great on this and the fall-off should be prompt. Final date for US release has yet to be set.
It's a shame, because the concept holds out hope for better things: Poppy (Roberts) is an aimless, motherless Malibu princess. Her father (Quinn) despairs of her attention-seeking antics and sends her a world away to a single-sex boarding school in the English countryside ('where it rains 200 days of the year').
On arrival, headmistress Natasha Richardson senses that Poppy's favourite reading material is OK! Magazine and presents her with a book - Alice in Wonderland - from which Poppy quotes for the rest of the film, a depressing indication of how humdrum this screenplay is. Desperately trying to get herself expelled, Poppy inadvertently befriends her room-mates (led by Angus's Nixon), alienates the head girl (King, good) and finds herself attracted to the school's forbidden fruit - the head's son, Freddie (Pettyfer).
The idea to surround Roberts, moving up from Nancy Drew, with a more seasoned cast for support doesn't really pan out: Richardson is under-used, and any comic potential promised by Shirley Henderson as matron loses out in favour of a pantomime performance which seems to come from another film entirely. Even the standard-issue Poppy transformation scene masterminded by Nick Frost as hairdresser Mr Christopher doesn't hit all the notes it should.
Instead, it's left to Roberts to gamely carry the picture for first-time director Moore. What actor, though, would find it easy to deliver a dramatic crux with the line: 'Drippy's in the freezer!''
As the film winds to a close, Wild Child grabs at anything it can - the Lacrosse team performs a hakka, Poppy's friends have a Spartacus moment - but it's too much, too late to plug the gaps in first-timer Lucy Dahl's screenplay or compensate for Moore's lack of authority. As to be expected, technical credits here are all fine, although for a teen movie, the soundtrack is surprisingly MOR.
Working Title Pictures