C-

Aquamarine

Whether it's pandering or just giving viewers they want, Aquamarine deserves a little credit for having a clear idea about who's sitting in the audience. Set in a quiet seaside town on the outskirts of Tampa, the film stars Sara Paxton (a kid-TV favorite from Darcy's Wild Life) as a mermaid who washes ashore and befriends best pals Emma Roberts and Joanna "JoJo" Levesque (both teen singers doing some movie moonlighting). After expressing some initial fascination about her new friends' legs, what does Paxton want to know about human life? Is it about our politics? Our art? Our ideas about God and law? No, it's boys! And shopping! And, uh, that's it. Mermaids: They're just like us. Or at least the 13-year-old-girl versions of us.

Adapted (and significantly reshaped) from a young-adult book by novelist Alice Hoffman, Aquamarine has the tossed-off quality of an ABC Family TV movie. Its lessons come pre-digested: Roberts has a fear of water, and by extension, life. Guess who's swimming with dolphins by the film's end? Levesque has a hard time accepting that she'll have to move at the end of the summer. Guess who—well, you can figure it out. It's harmless, but also pretty charmless. The stars all share the charisma-free cuteness that afflicts much of the Radio Disney generation. It's as if they've spent their whole life preparing to be in front of a camera, so their every move looks like a pose. Everyone looks like they're struggling to appear human, and only one has a huge, fishy tail as an excuse.

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