The fact that this film was immediately preceded by a Britney Spears video should probably have tipped us off. The Disney Channel's original movie Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century is, to be frank, Not Our Kind of Movie. But our dedication to the Month of Z is such that when we saw Zenon listed in the upcoming movies on cable, we dutifully marked it for recording and watched it. Two hours of mediocre low-budget science fiction (punctuated by the giggly shrieks of pre-teen girls) later, we are beginning to question the wisdom of such devotion.
Zenon is a thirteen year-old girl who lives on a bustling space station of the FUTURE. What future? The year is 2049. How do we know it's 2049? Well, everyone lives in left over Doctor Who sets, and all the young people dress like Helen Hunt did 15 years ago, only with less taste. And the slang, oh the slang. Here's a quick primer. Good things are "stellar." Bad things are "gaseous." Any noun or adjective at the end of a sentence can be modified with either "minor" or "major" after it. Examples:
"That gaseous computer is crashing major!"
"My parents grounded me for an infraction minor!"
"Mr. Coleman, please step
out of the car."
Needless to say, this gets real old, real quick. And when the story moves to Earth, we have a whole new set of set of slang to deal with.
Some of the slang we never did figure out. Characters say something that sounds like "seed-us-la-peed-us" as an expression of shock, but we never did figure out what they were saying. The closed captioning claimed they were saying "cletus-a-petus." Most of the fan sites for the film seemed to think it was "zedisapedis," or something similar. Our best guess is that the phrase is derived from two different stellar objects: Cetus the whale constellation and Iapetus the moon of Saturn. Why? We have no idea.
Zenon is expanded rather significantly from a picture book by the same name. In the 48-page original illustrated text, Zenon is kicked off the space station and sent to Earth, where she learns about the important things in life when her grandparents' dog has puppies. In the movie, Zenon is banished from the station for snooping into the affairs of the evil tycoon who has secret plans to wreck the space station (which he owns) and collect on the insurance. Once on Earth, Zenon teaches her aunt about the importance of dating while scoring a few smooches herself and then she proves the adults wrong by saving the space station (almost) single-handedly. While doing so, Zenon also helps her aunt overcome her fear of spaceflight, promotes Earth/space station political relations, shares a shuttle ride with her favorite boy band, and learns to drive.
"Stop calling me 'Rudy II !'"
Wow, kids sure do grow up fast these days.
Kirsten Storms, the young actress in the role of Zenon, fills her space boots admirably. Although we kept having flashbacks to Melissa Joan Hart as Sabrina the Teenaged Witch, she has apparently won the hearts of girls her age, who have erected a number of Zenon sites in her honor. Who are we to argue with the legions of adolescents who so obviously think Zenon and her friends are, uh, "stellar major?"
A couple of crusty old critics, that's who.
Zenon and her bubble-headed space station pals (including Nebula, played by Raven Symone, the kid who was brought into the aging Cosby Show to supply cuteness once Rudy got too old) are outdone in their shallow antics only by the petty Earth kids. The Earthling juveniles encountered by Zenon have an obnoxious slang all their own and a poor attitude towards outsiders, but manage to pull their heads out of their arses long enough to teach their space station bumpkin cousin the joys of horseback riding, junk food, and stealing the family car. It's as if the writers asked a group of pre-teens to fill out a questionnaire detailing their darkest fantasies and then turned the answers into a script set against a sci-fi backdrop.
We're certain that there are people who find this entertaining, but for all the good ideas and earnest performances given here, the film lacks charm. Are we supposed to like Zenon simply because she's spunky and ignores the edicts of her parents? Sorry guys, no sale. There are a few moments in which the characters show signs of being human (we almost felt a little something when the crestfallen aunt realizes that Zenon has abandoned her to go save her space buddies), and the special effects were pretty neat for a TV production (those digital inserts are becoming way too cheap), but for the most part the flick fails to reach escape velocity.