High School Musical 2 doesn’t soar to the heights of the original film, but it features my favorite song in the series (“I Don’t Dance”), so there’s that. The story moves from Albuquerque’s East High to a nearby golf course as summer vacation begins and the students are in need of summer jobs. Most of them are anyway. Twins Sharpay (Ashley Tisdale) and Ryan (Lucas Grabeel) don’t need to work because their family owns Lava Springs Country Club, and, operating on home turf, they get to exact some revenge after their last high school musical humiliation.
It’s a story whipped up to keep the HSM momentum going. Sharpay wises up to the fact that Troy Bolton (Zac Efron) is a snack, him being a basketball and theater star now, and makes it her goal to steal him away from Gabriella Montez (Vanessa Hudgens). She gets the club manager, Mr. Fulton (Mark L. Taylor), to hire him and only him on for the summer, so she’s surprised when half her school shows up, ready to start as Lava Springs’s newest employees.
The movie is a fun-in-the-sun kind of picture, something along the lines of a 60s summer beach musical aimed at the teen set, except we’re in the middle of New Mexico. The East High students are doing hard work as dishwashers, lifeguards, and desk attendants, but trouble’s brewing since Mr. Fulton’s being a jerk about his three strikes policy and Sharpay is undermining everyone in order to win the club’s talent show.
Pitting the diva against everyone else weakens the narrative though. Sharpay demands to be seen and heard at all times, but she isn’t a strong antagonist as much as she is a loud one. In the first film, she’s one of many people keeping Troy and Gabriella apart, her ego and petty obsessions making for a satisfying subplot. In this story, her character has to carry a lot more baggage, but her incessant chatter soon becomes background noise to everyone else’s more interesting problems. Troy, for example, has college on his mind. He took the job to earn some money, but he also hopes to play basketball at university. Gabriella, meanwhile, is not as wrapped up in her post-East High life, probably because she’s a genius and knows she’s getting into college. She is worried, however, about her relationship with dreamboat Troy.
I have said it before and I will say it again – that Efron kid can act, and while he might overdo it a bit here, he gives his character surprising depth. It’s not often I side with the preppy white boy in a movie about teenage angst, but I am swayed by Troy’s earnestness. The kid looks like he’ll break if basketball and true love don’t work out. I wish Hudgens had similar opportunities with Gabriella. Unfortunately, her dilemma is a romantic one, which means we just see her lamenting over Troy’s possibly betrayal.
The best performance and character in my book belong to Lucas Grabeel as Ryan. Despite playing second fiddle to everyone, Ryan makes the most of what he’s got. If the original movie was about defining yourself and showing some moral fiber, then he owns that message here. That’s why I like his showstopper, “I Don’t Dance,” so much. Finally, he stands up and challenges everyone to let go of stereotypes about themselves. Sure, he wants them to sing in the contest as well, but for once he’s not under his sister’s orders.
Also the song sounds like late-90s boy band on Broadway and is choreographed like an extra scene in Damn Yankees. For musical nerds, this one is the only memorable number. Efron’s emo “Bet On It” gets an honorable mention, but that’s because it’s grown into its own thing. I can’t name any other song in this movie, except to say there’s one for when they’re out for summer break, one for when they’re dancing in the kitchen, and one for the end of the movie.
“What Time is It” by Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale, Lucas Grabeel, Corbin Bleu, Monique Coleman:
“Fabulous” by Ashley Tisdale and Lucas Grabeel:
“Work This Out” by Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, Corbin Bleu, Monique Coleman, Chris Warren Jr., Olesya Rulin, Ryne Sanborn, Kaycee Stroh:
“You are the Music in Me” by Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, Olesya Rulin:
“I Don’t Dance” by Lucas Grabeel and Corbin Bleu:
“You are the Music in Me (Reprise)” by Ashley Tisdale and Zac Efron:
“Gotta Go My Own Way” by Vanessa Hudgens and Zac Efron:
“Bet on It” by Zac Efron:
“Everyday” by Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens:
“All for One” by Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale, Lucas Grabeel, Corbin Bleu, Monique Coleman:
Dir: Kenny Ortega
Writer: Peter Barsocchini
Cast: Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, Lucas Grabeel, Ashley Tisdale, Corbin Bleu, Monique Coleman, Mark L. Taylor, Bart Johnson, Oleysa Rulin, Chris Warren Jr., Jessica Tuck, Robert Curtis Brown
Time: 104 min
Country: United States
Network: Disney Channel