"Sleepover" is a skillfully made teen comedy with such an endearing sensibility that it's fun even for those old enough to be the grandparents of its stars. Screenwriter Elisa Bell has created a sturdy, dynamically structured context in which lots of freewheeling fun unfolds, and director Joe Nussbaum maintains a high-spirited, exhilarating pace yet brings dimension to his middle school heroines. Alexa Vega, the vivacious brunet of the "Spy Kids" pictures, plays Julie, who has invited three friends to a sleepover on their last night of middle school. Promising to not leave the house, to have no boys over and to not break anything, she persuades her mother, Gabby (Jane Lynch), to go out for the evening. After all, her father (Jeff Garlin) will be home, and most likely her older brother Ren (Sam Huntington) will also be around.
At first, Julie and her pals Hannah (Mika Boorem), Farrah (Scout Taylor-Compton) and Yancy (Kallie Flynn Childress), as expected, play loud music, experiment with makeup and invade websites. But then Stacie (Sara Paxton), the blond glamour girl of Julie's class and a full-time meanie, challenges Alexa to a scavenger hunt. At stake is the right to sit by the fountain at lunch at the high school or to be relegated to a table by the dumpster. All Julie has to do is steal a magnetic insignia off the overzealous neighborhood security guard's car, switch clothing on show window dummies at a mall store, gain admission to the hottest disco in town, nab a pair of the high school dreamboat's boxer shorts and grab the crown of the king or queen of the high school prom.
This is a recipe for nonstop mayhem, and this movie has no lack of ingredients, including the key running gag of Alexa's father being conveniently distracted all evening by foolishly attempting to install a water purifier in the kitchen sink all by himself; similarly, Alexa repeatedly has to pay off her brother to cover for her.
"Sleepover" plays out like clockwork -- cleverly and gratifyingly, with the symmetry and justice of a Restoration comedy. Yet "Sleepover" has one of those cinematic moments that takes it to an unexpected level, with a blithe image of Alexa, wearing her mother's spangled red gown, skateboarding on a dark street, the embodiment of youthful freedom and promise. What Alexa doesn't know is that none other than the aforementioned dreamboat, Steve (Sean Faris), has caught a glimpse of her, and he is as beguiled by this whimsical vision of loveliness as someone who's sitting in the audience watching "Sleepover."
MPAA rating: PG for thematic elements involving teen dating, some sexuality and language.
Times guidelines: Suitable for all ages
An MGM presentation of a Landscape Entertainment production in association with Weinstock Productions. Director Joe Nussbaum. Producers Charles Weinstock, Bob Cooper. Screenplay Elisa Bell. Cinematographer James L. Carter. Editor Craig P. Herring. Music Deborah Lurie. Costumes Pamela Withers Chilton. Production designer Stephen McCabe. Art director Drew Boughton. Set decorator Teresa Visinare. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.
In general release.