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‘Zoey 102’ is an okay film, but lacks most of the charm and spirit of ‘Zoey 101’

Like most people my age, I was obsessed with “Zoey 101” when I was younger. I wanted to live and go to school at Pacific Coast Academy, ride a Jet-X, use a Tekmate and hang out with Zoey and her friends. The Nickelodeon show was an essential part of my childhood and I watched reruns for years. I often wondered how the characters turned out. Now, it seems I do not have to wonder anymore. A new revival film, “Zoey 102”, came out July 27 on Paramount+. Despite my love for the show, and my previous mention of wondering about the characters’ futures, it did not seem necessary. It also seemed like an interesting decision considering some backlash that came to star Jamie Lynn Spears’ way during the movement for her sister, the Free Britney Spears movement. There have also been claims by former star Alexa Nikolas of a hostile set. However, it looks like the production is sweeping all of that under the rug, and based on this film’s viewership, it is somewhat working. Even though some cast members decided to not come back, the movie still went on. It is hard to recreate the magic of a high school childhood show, and this film did not achieve that. I was not expecting brilliance from the film, but I was expecting something at least a little more enthralling. The film was not so bad, but it could have been something more.

Zoey Brooks (Spears) is way past her high school days, and she is living a whole new life now. She is now a producer on a successful dating show where she has to fight daily sexism. Zoey just wishes her life was something more. When her high school best friend Quinn Pensky (Erin Sanders) asks Zoey to be her maid of honor at her wedding to her high school sweetheart/trust-fund millionaire Logan Reese (Matthew Underwood), it will be the first time in a while that Zoey is returning to her whole life. This includes old high school friends like Michael Barret (Christopher Massey) Stacey Dillsen (Abby Wilde), Mark Del Figgalo (Jack Salvatore) and her ex-boyfriend Chase Matthews (Sean Flynn). Zoey has not seen Chase since she abandoned him on their trip to Hawaii. In order to keep up appearances, she hires someone to be her fake boyfriend for the wedding so that she does not embarrass herself in front of Chase. In between wedding set-up, Zoey reconnects with her high school friends while also trying to work on her reality show’s finale at the same time. However, there ends up being some cold feet and conflicts in the wedding. Will Zoey save the day? Will love conquer all?

It was nice to see all of these beloved characters together again. They were always fun to watch and it’s great to see them all back together. The returning actors have not had a lot of acting success since their days on “Zoey 101.” However, they still did a decent job playing characters they originated almost 20 years ago. The stand outs, in my opinion, were Flynn as Chase and Underwood as Logan. Flynn kept up the dorky yet passionate demeanor that made young girls fall in love with him in “Zoey 101.” It was like Flynn never skipped a beat, and klutzy Chase never left. On the opposite end, the cocky yet loving Logan made a swift return, and it seemed like Underwood had a lot of fun with this part. Out of the original characters, this character has the most to do personality-wise, and it was fun to see him being the loud and over-confident trust-fund baby that we know and kind of love. Even though he is older, he is still outrageous, which is what makes this a wonderful performance. I also thought that Sanders as Quinn did a nice job. My only complaint is that she did not act that much like the original Quinn. While, naturally, the extreme nerdiness and personality of Quinn is more meant for a high school student, and she is working in a tech field like everyone expected, I wish the character still had the spunk and spirit. That is more on the fault of the writers, as Sanders still gave it her all to be an adult Quinn, and she was certainly having fun with it. Also, Quinn and Logan still have fantastic chemistry as they keep up the ideal enemies to lovers relationship of my childhood. Then there’s Spears as Zoey. As the main character, she has always been the one with the least creative personality. In this film, her acting felt a little plain, but that could have possibly just been the character. Even when she was getting into wild hijinks, her acting could have been a little bit stronger and there could have been a deeper personality shown. I found myself wanting to watch some of the other characters a little bit more. However, it’s clear that everyone was having a great time with each other, and that real-life bonding translated into great character bonding on screen.

The plot was an interesting choice for this film. Naturally, they can not go back to high school, but I wish there was more of a connection. There was a decent connection towards the end, but not for most of the film. It would not take many fixes for this movie to be completely separate from the “Zoey 101” universe. A lot of the beats and plot points felt more similar to a basic rom-com. Which is what also made the film a little predictable, as most of the audience knows how rom-coms work. In addition, I would have maybe cut some of the plot points, like Logan’s musical sister, Lyric (Audrey Whitby), or some of the reality show plotline, as there is only so much that can fit into an hour and 41 minutes. It is already a lot to reintroduce new characters, so adding so many new situations may not have been necessary. Balance is key. That being said, this was still a fun movie to watch. There was still the wackiness of a Nickelodeon sitcom and some fun hijinks. There was nothing especially exciting, but it was still an easy watch. There were a lot of fun moments, like the karaoke scene or the scenes with Zoey’s fake boyfriend Todd/Hugo (Dean Geyer). Many moments made me laugh, and there were also heartfelt moments that connected me to the story. While it is nowhere near a perfect film, as a lot of trimming and editing was needed, I had a lovely time watching the film.

Was “Zoey 102” as terrific as “Zoey 101”? Absolutely not, there is no question about that. The Nickelodeon nostalgia will stay strong for a while. Was this movie necessary and important to make? That would also be a no. As entertaining as some may be, reboots and revivals have never been necessary and they almost exclusively exist as cash grabs. However, “Zoey 102” was able to be a mostly joyful watch. I liked seeing some of my favorite characters again, and a lot of them have held onto that magical chemistry that made the original great. It may be weird to see them making modern day references and no longer attending Pacific Coast Academy, but they still hold on to their personalities at the core. Even though this was a movie about adults in their early 30s who drink and make sexual references, it still had some Nickelodeon sparks deep down. I hope the “Zoey 101” IP stops with the film, but it was not that bad at all. If you want to know what the “Zoey 101” pals are up to today, you want some Nickelodeon nostalgia, or you want a romantic comedy about reconnecting with a long lost love, watch “Zoey 102” today.

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