By Rachel Morgan | August 11, 2004

Will Nash (Nick Tagas) is an introverted, overly nervous high school student with few friends who aspires to be a photographer. Unfortunately, he is terrorized by the school bully, Ian (Chris Peter), and his toady, Jason (Ryon Nixon). The teachers at Briarwood High School are no help; they either look the other way or have misguided intentions. Will’s parents are intolerant and absentee. Chance (Jon Carlo Alvarez), the new kid at school, quickly befriends Will and they work together to invent a master plan to conquer the class bullies. Will is soon asked to be a photographer for the school newspaper and is beginning to form a relationship with a girl (Amanda) he has a crush on, but just as things are starting to look up, Ian and his crew manage to ruin everything. They make trouble for Will at every turn; they steal his camera, beat him up, threaten him, and generally make his life a living hell. Chance and Will somehow manage to round up $900 and take a trip to a pawn shop out of town to purchase a gun. After receiving news that the bullies plan to jump him, Will decides to skip his lunch date with Amanda (Giovannie Pico) and plays sick so he can lay in bed all day instead of going to school. In Will’s absence the bullies decide to pick on Chance, they beat him up and he heads over to Will’s where the two friends vow to take care of Ian and his crew and “get their lives back”. Despite the hoopla, Chance manages to get his motorcycle fixed only to see it smashed by Ian with a baseball bat, with some testosterone still left, the “preps” also decide to beat up Chance’s brother, Brandon (Daniel Timko). Feeling that they have nothing left to loose, Will and Chance schedule a time and place to meet so that they can kill Ian, his friends and a bunch of other people who have pissed them off. However, as Will is leaving to meet Chance for the big shoot-out that pesky Amanda shows up and foils the plans. Amanda attempts to convince the two that violence is not the answer, but other factors ensue and the unfortunate situation inevitably begins to escalate.

“American Yearbook” plays out a little too much like an after-school special. The film was shot on MiniDV video and this doesn’t seem to help the situation. While the overall structure of the script is fairly strong, the dialogue is weak and the performances are weighed down because of it. Lines like, “my dreams are all I’ve got now” and “I want to change people’s lives with my photography” are more than a little hard to stomach, I can’t imagine how hard they must be for an actor to deliver. However, despite the lame dialogue, the young actors manage to do an impressive job, especially Tagas and Pico. Most of the adult actors in the cast, with the exception of the journalism teacher, are unfortunately unable to hold their own, it seems as if little concern was given to their direction and/or casting. The character development is fairly solid, the frame of the script is complex and interesting enough that the viewer isn’t bored, the film is entertaining in that “Saved By The Bell” kind of way, but overall it’s a shame it isn’t better. One thing that’s completely unacceptable is the 90210-style montage set to that “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” song by Good Charlotte, I was totally unprepared and I almost threw up in my mouth. Although it was interesting to see a shot of a VW grill mixed in with the BMW, Audi and Mercedes hood ornaments (I had no idea the Jetta was so upscale), an additional half-a-star might be in order if I hadn’t been subjected to that horrible song. The film also contains a video yearbook montage swiped directly from “Heathers”; I’m trying to accept it as a homage. While “American Yearbook” has a solid foundation, its execution is ultimately its downfall.

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