Director: Sean McNamara | Screenwriter: Matt Allen | Cast: Janel Parrish, Carlos PenaVega, Levi Dylan | Distributor: Paramount | Running Time: 102 min. | MPAA Rating: PG-13
The bland rock drama of Mighty Oak might’ve had some kick if it could settle on its core theme. Aspects of getting the band back together are muddied when reincarnation is thrown into the mix. Bereft of either spirituality or a genuine love for music, this melodramtic mess comes off as an amateur Lifetime picture that’s in desparate need of some tuning.
The film stumbles all over itself to establish the setting. The first act of the picture takes place in the early 2000s, hammered home by the cringe joke about how iPods will one day rule the world. We’re introduced to the band Army of Love, referring to themselves as AOL and somehow missing the easiest era joke in a film that takes all the low-hanging fruit it can get. The lead singer of the group is Vaughn (Levi Dylan), a talented songwriter who is the idol of his sister Gina (Janel Parrish). But then tragedy strikes as a car crash kills Vaughn. When he dies, so does the band.
Years later in the present, Army of Love has gone their separate ways. They either struggle to teach lackluster students in the way of rock, hopelessly talk music at a record store, or grapple with the pressures of being a diner waitress. Life sucks until a little boy named Oak comes into their lives. Oak is not only pretty darn talented for being a 10-year-old who play the guitar, but can even write his own songs as well. He grows up fast considering his single mother is a hopeless drug addict that can’t even take care of him.
The band’s lead guitarist Pedro (Carlos PenaVega) takes Oak under his wing and can see real potential in him. Gina, however, views something more. She can see Vaughn in the boy. I don’t mean metaphorically, I mean she literally thinks that Vaughn has been reincarnated in the form of Oak. This is debated over by her bandmates as though it were a trashy supernatural conspiracy theory program, bickering about how Oak would know how to draw Chim-Chim the same way Vaughn did if Oak hasn’t seen Speed Racer.
While this may have lead a film down the path of spirituality, this melodrama doesn’t have such aspirations. It would much rather stick to keeping the goal squarely focused on getting the band back together and reviving their joy of playing on stage. And yet the film seems to dash a lot of the hope for these scenes with needless tweaks to the script. Consider how Gina is surprised that Oak’s first stage performance goes viral only to be revealed that Gina paid for views. Oak’s mom has a drug problem but is explained away as her having a medical issue so we don’t despise her too much or take any critical aim at the drug crisis in America without fully villainizing the victim. Perhaps the worst part in the tactics of pushing the band back together is when Oak deceives his nicest pair of grandparents by faking a letter from a late relative to get back to Army of Love. There’s no reason why Oak couldn’t have a heart-to-heart to convince these caring old folks to let him play. But I suppose not letting Oak drink coffee or being moved to Minnesota is worthy of such deception, at least to Oak.
Mighty Oak’s major draw of the rock performances are decent considering the kid but nothing to write a screenplay about. The rock comes off about as tepid as any generic, family-friendly rock group out there. This picture could’ve easily fallen into the genre of being a Christian rock film for the whole family if it only embraced that spiritual aspect a little more aggressively. It wouldn’t have been good, but at least the film would know what it’s trying to be rather than a meanderingly dull drive to get to a 10-year-old rocking the stage in a manner more cute than inspiring.