Background: Television science fiction shows vary widely in terms of how well their writers understand even the most basic of science, presumably having skipped out on taking many such classes in their past. This doesn't mean they can't entertain us with wild yarns spun out of ignorance but it also limits the scrutiny that can be applied to their work product too. One of the more common themes over the years has been a group of people fighting to save the day in one sense or another after ending up in hostile circumstances not of their own choosing. Such was the case with the latest volume of Sliders that I reviewed recently but the same holds true for the Stargate shows, various Star Trek series and many more that you may not have seen. Earlier this year, a movie employing similar concepts aired on the Disney Channel on cable, the DVD release of which is the subject of this review in my look at Minutemen.
The happy friends before the football field incident.
Movie: Minutemen follows the traditional path of Disney science fiction/fantasy efforts as a sort of "buddy" flick where three unlikely heroes are put in a situation that allows them to go back in time to fix things that went wrong. Unlike Quantum Leap though, they trio has no outside guidance other than their own morality of right and wrong. Needless to say, this leads to the concept of unintended consequences coming into play fairly early in the movie. Starting off with a quick set up in the freshman year of high school, Virgil (Jason Dolley) is seen hanging out with his two best friends for years; hotty Stephanie (Chelsea Staub) and jock Derek (Steven McQueen, the grandson of the famous actor). Each is looking to fit into their new surroundings so Stephanie tries out for the cheerleading squad and Derek goers out for the football team; establishing Virgil as the outsider of the trio. During football tryouts, a crazy kid in a rocket powered car wrecks havoc on the field, stopped only by Derek's well placed throw of a football; landing him in the popularity ring while the kid, an under aged super genius named Charlie Tuttle (Luke Benward) and Virgil get bullied. See, Virgil tried to intervene when the entire field of players were about to beat Charlie up so the team punished both of them as seen when the pair are hanging from their female cheerleading outfits hanging by the school mascot (appropriately enough, a ram) with make up on. The drag comedy seeming kind of forced, it shows the pair becoming friends of circumstance; the movie fast forwarding three years in the future where they are close friends in the fringe crowd of geeks.
Charlie's debut on the football field.
Exactly why super genius Charlie is still in high school that many years later (remember, he was smart enough to be skipping grades left and right up until the movie began) is left unclear, presumably because his newfound friendship, but he stumbles upon the secret of time travel by means of a device not dissimilar to the wormholes of the aforementioned Sliders and Stargate shows; right down to the freezing effect that was later tossed as impractical on Stargate. This leads to them wearing silly snowsuits (how practical in Southern California...) as a means of warding off the cold and protecting their identity. Along the way, they pick up a rebellious teen named Zeke (Nicholas Braun) and the circumstances arise where they set out to save fellow members of the fringe crowd from the torment of the bullies so common to schools everywhere. Without revealing too much of the plot, the kids soon find that every fate they rearrange ends up having unintended and negative consequences, forcing them to consider if what they are doing is really such a great idea after all. There is also a subplot where it is discovered that Charlie stole some data from a NASA computer, leading to them establishing a link when strange and growing energy readings begin to cause trouble.
Virgil and Charlie become friends in drag.
Wanting to stay ahead of the authorities and reconsider their motivations for all that they do, the team decides to stop their adventures for awhile until Virgil finds out that the secret love of his life (yes, Stephanie, this is a Disney movie of limited duration remember) could lose out on a very important scholarship without his intervention. She figures out who he is, part of the "Minuteman" team that has been appearing all over campus even if no one knows exactly why (the trouble with time travel is again explained that the only people remembering what was changed are the ones that changed it) and she tells Derek as the two are practically joined at the hip. See, Derek never tried to stop Virgil from being attacked that fateful day three years ago, his explanation being that he tried yet the original trio going off into their own paths. As the government presses down, Charlie also discovers that these repeated time travel trips have caused a serious breach in the space time continuum and they are the only ones that can save the day. Sound familiar? It should since there really wasn't much time to flesh out the details and make the characters more than two dimensional comic book characters. In the end, this is a Disney movie so you know what happens, the moral of the story being that some things are meant to be and should not be messed with.
When reviewing a movie that not only borrows so heavily from all that went before but doing so in a largely uninventive manner, it is important to consider the target audience as well. Had this one not been originally shown for FREE, I might have been kinder but the writing, direction, and acting were all on the low end of the curve so I rated it as a Rent It. It wasn't a terrible movie for young kids to watch but the concepts were so watered down and so much ground covered in so little time (pun intended) that I felt it lacked in too many ways to get higher accolades. Like the Mayfield College tales of years ago (when Dexter Riley and friends were alternately made invisible, super strong, and otherwise enhanced by science), there is potential for this one to branch out into a series of passable made for television movies but they'll have to do better than this to later sell them on DVD with the best gimmick being a "never before seen extended ending".
The Minutemen (at least they didn't wear tights)
Picture: Minutemen was presented in the original 1.33:1 ratio full frame color as broadcast on cable television back in January. Director Lev Spiro (Everybody Hates Chris, Arrested Development, many other televisions shows, and soft core porn) offered up what amounted to a low budget, quickly shot offering in the same vein as many of his other projects in recent years, light on depth but looking much like it should have for a cable television made movie. The colors were accurate, the CGI effects a bit on the low end too, and the amount of edge enhancement and aliasing average for this kind of production. There were numerous continuity goofs too but they were so minor that only a critical eye is likely to find most of them so enjoy the movie rather than worry about them.
That vortex sure looks familiar, I wonder if anyone notices.
Sound: The audio was presented in a 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround English with optional English language subtitles for the hearing impaired. The vocals were all clear enough, almost to the point of them sounding canned in separate studio sessions and added in post production. The ambient noises seemed to be lacking though, especially the outdoor scenes, and that is just the mark of many rushed projects made on a low budget. The music was actually not bad compared to some of Disney's other original cable productions (such as their dreadful high school musical releases) but the credits did not list most of the songs, at least one of them sounding like a Roxette clip I like. The rear speakers were not used very effectively and I got the impression that the surround aspect of the audio was handled mainly in post production but there was some separation between the front channels noticed.
Another completely original looking special effect.
Extras: The movie itself contained a slightly altered, longer ending but without the original to compare it to, I don't consider that to be much of an extra. There was also a music video serving as a trailer for the movie called Run It Back Again by Corbin Bleu that some of you might like; it having been in heavy rotation on the Disney Channel back when the movie came out in January of 2008 (there were also other trailers to movies for those that care). The best extra was the Backstage Disney episode for the movie called The Making of Minutemen lasting 9:38 where the three would be heroes acted like kids using clips of the movie and breaking it up into various parts (like a section on stunts, special effects via green screen, etc.). The box also included some coupons and incentives to join the Disney movie rewards website as well as a paper insert.
Final Thoughts: Minutemen was the kind of non offensive Disney flick that you sit the kids down in front of while you leave the room and a bit over priced at the MSRP of $26.99 considering how little you get compared to the free run of the movie on cable this year. The acting, direction, and writing were definitely light weight but don't consider this to be anything more than a couple episodes worth of Disney fare combined into a single outing, the running time suitable for a ton of commercials in a two hour Disney slot. In short, Minutemen is much like candy; suitable for a quick fix of entertainment but less filling in the long run so don't expect a whole lot or you'll be sorry.