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Disney’s predictable ‘Mat’ sends good message, has its moments

SHARE Disney’s predictable ‘Mat’ sends good message, has its moments

"Going to the Mat" is the greatest television movie in the history of the medium.

Oh . . . and my daughter, Amanda, is in it.

She doesn't exactly star in the Disney Channel movie, which premieres tonight at 9. But she is in it. You can clearly see her face in a couple of different scenes.

If you're looking for it.

I, of course, was looking for it. And greatly relieved when, after a bit of fast-forwarding, I found it — right there in the scene with the Hillcrest High band at the Huskies' football stadium.

Whew! Thank goodness she didn't end up on the cutting-room floor.

"Going to the Mat" is, not surprisingly, a movie about a high school wrestler. A blind high school wrestler, that is, played by Andrew Lawrence of the acting Lawrence brothers. (Remember Joey? Matt?)

Lawrence plays Jace Newfield, a New Yorker who seems to have dealt with his blindness extremely well. But in the opening moments of the "Mat," he's dealt a crushing blow — his family moves from Manhattan to Utah! Gasp!

Frankly, he's kind of a jerk about it. Jace doesn't exactly endear himself to his new classmates with his NYC-is-the-center-of-the-universe-and-you're-a-bunch-of-hicks attitude.

And the movie isn't going to exactly endear itself to Utahns on that count, either. Although Hillcrest High — inexplicably renamed Homestead High in the movie — is in the middle of the bustling Fort Union area, editing makes it appear that Jace has landed in a rural wilderness. (This is actually the second time the Disney Channel has filmed a movie at Hillcrest — the Midvale school was also used in 2002's "Double-Teamed," a flick about basketball-playing twin sisters.)

Anyway, Jace has trouble fitting in. He's a talented drummer, but he's a pain in the butt to his new music teacher, Mr. Wyatt (Wayne Brady), who's also blind. And he puts off a girl, Mary Beth (Alessandra Toreson), who only wants to help him. (Can you smell love interest in the making?)

Turns out she's the daughter of the wrestling coach (D.B. Sweeney), and, at her prompting, Jace and his buddy, Fly (Khleo Thomas of "Holes") go out for the team, despite having no clue what they're getting into.

But back to the important stuff. Amanda's first scene is in the bleachers at Hillcrest as the pep band is playing. (That's really them playing "On Wisconsin.") You can see her and her clarinet behind Lawrence, Toreson and Thomas

This particular scene would give any real band leader a heart attack — a drummer next to a flutist next to a keyboard player and so on. One of the movie's assistant directors told the real band kids, "I know it's not the band way, but it's the Disney way."

And the kids with the pink hair had to be moved to the back or don hats, because that wasn't Disney's way, either.

Lawrence can really play the drums but don't look too closely at Toreson's flute playing. "She didn't even know how to put it together," Amanda said. "I don't know how many times we told her."

But, it must be said, Toreson, Lawrence, Thomas and the other teen actors were all quite nice to the regular teens whose school they invaded for the filming.

When we watched a scene in the Hillcrest band room with just Lawrence and Brady, Amanda exclaimed, "That is so my sign!" (She's 16. She talks like that.) Turns out she made a hand-lettered sign you can sort of see in the background. (Don't tell her, but you can't really see it all that well. I've since been to the band room, so I know it's really there, but nobody else is going to notice.)

You can also see Amanda in the middle of the Northridge High band, which magically becomes the Homestead/Hillcrest band at the end of the movie. They filmed some sort of faux regional wrestling match at Northridge, and while Amanda wasn't paid for her appearances at Hillcrest, she did pick up a couple of days wages as an extra at Northridge ($85 a day).

I, however, was not paid to drive her to Layton. My payment comes in the form of embarrassing her horribly with this story. And embarrassing 16-year-old daughters is the goal of all fathers.

Lest you think making movies is glamorous, Amanda pronounced working as an extra "Boring. Most of the time we just sit around and wait."

Welcome to Hollywood, sweetheart.

A lot of the wrestling stuff in "Going to the Mat" doesn't make much sense. Reality takes a back seat to dramatic effect. So what if the standard format of a meet is for the wrestler to compete from lowest to highest weight? You want a match to hinge on whether 112-pound Fly wins? Have him go last. You want a regional championship to hang in the balance while 145-pound Jace competes? Have him go last.

"It's not the wrestling way," Amanda said while watching the tape with me. "It's the Disney way."

Ah, well. "Going to the Mat" is actually pretty predictable. You aren't expecting something other than a happy ending from a Disney Channel movie, are you?

But Lawrence is quite good in the lead role and it's a movie with a good message about persevering and overcoming obstacles . . . and not being a jerk about it when you have to move to Utah.

And my daughter is in it. So, of course it's a great TV movie.

E-mail: pierce@desnews.com