In cities all around the country, various establishments have evenings that are deemed open mike nights. That's where anyone with a hankering to act like a singer, musician, comedian or beatnik poet can get up in front of a crowd of strangers and do their thing.
While some do it for fun, others hope to turn their talent into a professional gig of some sort. Unfortunately for most of them and their immediate audience but fortunate for the rest of us, there's a reason why some people are paid for their talent and the rest are called amateurs.
With that in mind, this week's release of "On the Line," isn't exactly the amateur hour - it's more like the amateur hour and a half. Featuring two-fifths of the mega-popular "boy band" 'N Sync and a passel of "filmmakers" who shouldn't be let near any sort of filmmaking gear ever again, this is the sort of production that would be embarrassing for middle-school kids to call their own.
Of course, that's the targeted demographic the film's shooting for and fans of Lance Bass and Joey Fatone - who join a long list of musical performers hoping to add the label "movie star" to their list of achievements - probably won't care that it's awful from just about every cinematic aspect possible.
Another romantic comedy that's fueled by the "just missed them" premise that made other pictures such as "Serendipity" and "Sleepless in Seattle" enjoyable, the film is D.O.A. right from the onset, with its rotting carcass just getting more rank as the story unfolds or - more accurately - collapses upon itself due to shoddy workmanship.
The premise is sitcom simple. Boy and girl hit it off on a train, but boy is too dense to ask for her name or number. After mulling it over, he places fliers all over the city looking for the girl, but obviously gets calls from others wanting to meet the sweet guy. Meanwhile, his goofy friends decide to take advantage of the situation to get some free dates, all of which leads to a falling out between the would-be couple - a prerequisite for most romantic comedies - until the also obligatory happy ending.
While the film doesn't earn any points for retreading the well-worn romantic comedy formula, it's penalized many simply for being so bad. For starters, it could be the most technically maladroit, mainstream film released this year. Beyond lifting shots from other films, the picture is visually dull, and the way in which director Eric Bross (making his feature film debut after helming various indies) has shot it doesn't belie his novice status.
In addition, the dubbing - particularly involving singing legend Al Green - is atrocious, the editing is awkward and choppy, and the dialogue and the rest of the script related material - courtesy of screenwriters Eric Aronson and Paul Stanton (both making their debut) - stinks up the place from start to finish.
It's the performances, however, and their bland amateurishness and/or annoying overacting that really sink this production. Although the dialogue and the way in which his character has been drawn clearly don't help him, lead actor Lance Bass (making his feature film debut after appearing in numerous music videos with his band) is rather bad. Bland beyond description and limited to just a few facial reactions, Bass certainly doesn't do anything good for the film.
His female counterpart, Emmanuelle Chriqui ("A.I.," "Snow Day"), while appropriately pretty, is just about as limited as far as thespian abilities are concerned, at least based on her performance here. While teenyboppers will probably root for their romantic success by default, the chemistry between them - based on their initial, unrealistic meeting - isn't believable or really measurable.
They look like Oscar contenders, however, when compared with Bass' band mate, Joey Fatone ("The Brothers"), rapper GQ ("What's the Worst That Could Happen?") and more veteran actor Dave Foley ("Blast From the Past," TV's "NewsRadio"), all of whom are annoying, irritating and/or just incredibly awful in their roles.
Reduced to farting all of the time when not idolizing "The Mick" (Bon Jovi's Richie Sambora who inexplicably appears in this mess), Fatone vies with Foley - playing a bizarre boss with an even stranger, forced accent - in portraying some of the worst drawn characters you'll see all year. Meanwhile, Jerry Stiller ("Hairspray," TV's "Seinfeld") and Tamala Jones ("The Brothers," "Kingdom Come") are wasted in their small, underdeveloped roles, while various other performers and their characters are so bland and/or poorly written that they're not worth noting.
Overflowing with bad filmmaking, acting and a hackneyed script teaming with forced humor and inane behavior, "On the Line" might play well to teens and preteens enamored with 'N Sync, but it's otherwise a cinematic atrocity that should be proof to Bass and Fatone not to give up their day jobs. The film rates as a 1 out of 10.