Pulse Of The Maggot

Hilary Duff as ‘Kelly Collins’ in “Cadet Kelly”The Sonny With A Chance DVD was so cheap, I ended up buying another Disney Channel disc along with it, and dropping a second pound coin in the charity shop’s coffers. Hey, big spender!

For those who don’t know, Cadet Kelly (2002) is a TV-movie starring Hilary Duff as ‘Kelly Collins’, a “free-spirited” young city girl whose divorcée mother gets married (off-screen) to the Commandant of a military school, prompting the family to move upstate, where Kelly is enrolled into her new stepfather’s academy. To quote from the back cover blurb: “As the clumsiest, most clueless recruit ever to botch basic training, Kelly struggles to fit in. But it’s all-out war when she butts heads with Cadet Captain Stone (Christy Carlson Romano), a tough-as-nails, by-the-book ‘commanding officer’ determined to break her spirit. Can Kelly keep it together amidst endless rules and regulations to win Stone’s respect yet still leave her own unique mark on the school?” SPOILER: Yes. Yes, she can.

Of course, normally I’d be on the side of the “free-spirited” rebel, as she bucked the system and kicked back against The Man… but Kelly isn’t so much a deliberate “rebel” as an oblivious, self-absorbed sociopath. It probably would have helped if they’d spent more time establishing what sort of school she was in before the move, to bolster the context-free dance sequence that opens the movie, because at one point she claims that they only had to do maths if they “felt like it” at her old school… which suggests that it was more of a bohemian, “let the kids set their own schedule” sort of place… but we only really have her word for that. Still, it should be simple common sense that if you enter a classroom to find the other pupils stood smartly behind their desks, you should probably stand with them and not just slouch down in your seat… right? I guess that was intended as a joke about how she doesn’t stand up until after the teacher enters and everyone else has started sitting down again, but still… her whole attitude started to rankle me. She just seemed to be going out of her way to act the fool and annoy everyone, for no good reason… for instance, there’s another classroom scene where the teacher is talking about a famous Napoleonic battle, and Kelly raises her hand to interrupt him and announce that she’s “a conscientious objector”. To what? Learning history? That comment doesn’t make the slightest sense in that context. And how many of the kids watching this would even know what a “conscientious objector” was? Clearly she doesn’t, otherwise she would have mentioned it before her mum signed her up for military school! I guess if Kelly were a full-time boarder at the barracks, I’d be more sympathetic about her attempts to brighten up her bunk with a rainbow-coloured blanket and such… but the fact is her mother lives in a huge house on campus, which Kelly stays in on weekends and can pop back to any time she wants to help a friend pick out a fancy dress for an upcoming dance, or whatever. It probably doesn’t help that a lot of the dialogue sounds disjointed and nonsensical, as if it’s been poorly translated into English from a foreign language…

Hilary Duff as ‘Kelly Collins’ in “Cadet Kelly”Anyhoo, the meat of the story involves Kelly’s absorption into the Academy’s underachieving drill team… where she uses her funky dance moves to spice up their musty, robotic routines. Hurrah? Much like Wild Child, this could have been a relatively stirring story about a spoiled brat learning self-discipline and “esprit de corps” via participation in a suspenseful sporting contest… but it’s undercut by the writers’ belief that we’ll find Kelly’s “wacky” antics and smug voice-over to be amusing and endearing, while they muddy the arc with a lot of totally irrelevant plot strands, such as her barely-there romance with the “cutest boy in school”, her mother’s new pregnancy, and a ridiculous sequence involving Kelly’s accident-prone birth-father falling off a nearby cliff during the big regional competition (she dashes out to rescue him after the first round, misses the second, but still gets back in time for the all-important final round! Phew!)

As I say, I found the script so annoying, it’s hard to judge any of the performances here… although Duff did have some quite sweet scenes with her stern-but-fair step-father, played by Gary Cole. And you have to admire the young cast’s dedication to learning all of the deathly dull drill routines… although frankly, I could have done with a little more character development and a little less rifle-slingin’.

[Note: In case you were curious about the Slipknot reference in the post’s title, Stone repeatedly refers to Kelly as a “maggot” throughout the movie. Charming!]

About Dee CrowSeer

A comic book writer with an interest in feminism, philosophy, and affirmative action. He/him.
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