Film Review: Mighty Oak
Director: Sean McNamara
Streaming on Video on Demand: 07.07
In the roughly 12 years that I have been a film critic, the phrase I have heard most often from friends and other moviegoers is “no spoilers!” I certainly understand the sentiment, though they needn’t worry: Avoiding spoilers is part of my job. There are times, however, when that makes it frustratingly difficult to review certain types of films. The strongest example of this I can think of would be Seven Pounds, with Will Smith. It was a struggle to convey how and why I hated that film with such intensity—despite some stellar acting—without delving into the irresponsible glorification of suicide and the fact that The Fresh Prince actually climbed into a bathtub with a jellyfish (which, by the way, should be equivalent in movie terminology to “jumping the shark”).
Mighty Oak is another such film, a soggy dramedy about an up-and-coming rock band who are so close to each other that they are like a family. In fact, the front man, Vaughn Jackson (Levi Dylan) and the manager, Gina (Janel Parrish, Pretty Little Liars) are an orphaned brother and sister who share a tight bond. When the band is traveling home from a gig at night, their van is hit by a drunk driver in most oafishly staged car crash sequence I’ve ever seen on film: We watch one of the drummer’s cymbals spinning on the road in slow motion, then watch as Gina finds Vaughn lying dead on the side of the road, but with with no visible injuries apart from a tiny bit of old, World War II movie–style blood spittle dripping from the side of his mouth.
Ten years later, Gina Jackson, who has become a shell of her former self—and she was a real piece of work to begin with—is inspired to bring the band back together when she meets Oak Scoggins (Tommy Ragen), a 10-year-old guitar prodigy whom she is convinced is the literal reincarnation of her late brother.
Mighty Oak is watchable most of the way through due to capable, if not great, performances, especially from Parrish and Carlos PenaVega, as well as plenty of catchy tunes, but it takes an insipid story and plays it with overwrought, faux sincerity that is frankly just insulting and inane. The final third is taken over by such an asinine twist that M. Night Shyamalan himself might ask, “Are you seriously going with that?” It becomes so cheesy and unbearably maudlin that it almost plays like self parody.
Director Sean McNamara (Soul Surfer, Baby Geniuses and the Space Baby) is not exactly brimming with street cred, but he might deserve some leeway for the fact that he was saddled with a script from Matt R. Allen (Nine Lives) that can charitably be described as too incompetent to be truly offended by it, but McNamara makes so many cringe-inducing choices in his approach that he still gets plenty of blame.
Young Tommy Ragen is a phenomenal guitarist, and his talents actually inspired this movie. But Allen and McNamara should have watched School of Rock before making a decision as to what kind of vehicle to create for him. Instead, they have concocted a syrupy mess that seems to be methodically tailored to appeal to no one and is so far beneath contempt that any moment I expected to see Kevin Sorbo or Dean Cain show up in it.
It may seem to you that I am being unduly harsh towards this film, but you haven’t seen the final third, and therefore you can’t judge me. And if you do see it, please: no spoilers. –Patrick Gibbs