Kevin Gibbons (NSync-er and executive producer Lance Bass) can’t catch a break. When On the Line begins, he’s the lead singer in his high school band, on stage in 1994. As he’s explaining, in voiceover, the extent of their commitment—“We were all about the rock!”—Kev’s hoping that tonight will be the night that he makes his move, makes clear his affection for the cutest girl in his class. But as she smiles at him from the floor, Kev loses his nerve: he can’t sing, he can’t move. The tension builds; the camera cuts from the girl beaming to Kev sweating to his bandmates looking on in horror. Suddenly, we’re inside his nightmare: Kev stands naked on the stage, the crowd laughing in that horrible, floaty, echo-ey way that crowds do in such situations. He faints.
Cut to “Seven years later,” and Kev is hanging with his roommates, including former bandmate and still best friend Rod (NSync-er Joey Fatone), who observes, so sagely, that Kevin lacks self-confidence, that he chokes, that that he can’t “seal the deal,” when it comes to girls. This from a guy whose idea of a solid rock show is pouring beer down his throat, just before he kicks over his amp (he’s also a major fan of some aging, leather-pantsed rock-guy called “The Mick,” played by very good sport Richie Sambora). Still, Rod has a point: Kev is bland as can be, an unfortunate condition for a romantic lead.
Not having a girlfriend can seem dire to a pretty young man. Still, there are worse things, for example, rooming with Rod (who farts repeatedly, apparently a source of great humor, as the members of NSync reported on The Tonight Show some weeks ago), along with two other perpetual adolescents, singularly unimpressive wannabe rapper Eric (Gregory Qaiyum, or, as he’s listed in the credits… GQ) and lackluster Randy (James Bulliard). For some reason, the roommates are invested in Kev’s love life, so they are loudly disappointed in him when he meets the girl of his dreams on the train but doesnt get her digits, or even her name.
The rest of the film follows Kev’s increasingly elaborate efforts to locate this awesome girl, whose name, incidentally, is Abbey (Emmanuelle Chriqui, of Snow Day and Cruel Intentions 2). Though Kev can’t know this, you learn that Abbey doesn’t actually live in Chi-town, yet (she’s moving there soon). And so, when he papers the streets with flyers recounting their shared love of Al Green and ability to list the U.S. Presidents in order, and asking her to call him, she never sees the effort, but only pines for this “perfect guy” she met on the train. The film pretends to complicate matters with Abbey’s engagement to someone else, a career-obsessed cell-phone junkie. But he’s so obviously a bad match that even when he appeases her with Al Green tickets, you can’t be impressed. And you’re right—almost as soon as she says yes, yes, yes to the date, this totally lame fiancé is blowing her off for a “meeting,” leaving her to watch Green all by her lonesome. Worse, Kev is at the same show with his boy Eric, whose tickets turn out to be bogus, so the two are bounced out of the club just before Abbey enters the room. Still worse (!), the Green show itself is a spectacularly badly synced performance; I can’t remember the last time I saw someone sing on screen with so little relationship to the soundtrack. By the time Green shows up again under the closing credits to sing “Let’s Stay Together,” you’re long past the point of wondering why he’s affiliated with this silly business, but you just might be appalled to see GQ drop his wretched “rap” on top of Green’s performance.
Before that, however, you have to get through the rest of the plot, which is skimpy, to say the least. Since you know that Kev and Abbey must hook up (in the very last scene, of course), Eric Aronson and Paul Stanton’s script comes up with still more filler nonsense. Some of this has to do with Kev’s campaign zooming out of control after the Chicago Daily News runs a “human interest story” on it. Hundreds of girls think the saga is so “romantic” that they respond to what amounts to a personals ad, even though they aren’t “The Train Girl,” and Kev’s roommates decide to set up a system whereby they all get “dates,” pretending to be him. This exceedingly tedious process is alleviated only by a 30-second scene showing the beginning of Rod’s date with Chyna, surely frightening enough in concept that you don’t need to see details.
Another bit of diversion is provided by Kev’s job, which has zilch to do with his romance. The once aspiring rock star has grown up to be a worker bee: Kevin is now toiling, Darren Stevens-like, at a Chicago advertising agency, where his boss is the supremely self-confident Higgins (Dave Foley), who likes to blend his wheat-grass drink in the office, then offer the green goo to whatever employee he’s lording over at the time. To showcase Kev’s haplessness, his latest assignment is to help his extremely competitive colleague Jackie (Tamala Jones) on the all-important Reebok account. On some in-jokey level this makes sense: who better than Lance Bass to pitch product to tweens? But in terms of straight plot, it mostly just makes Kev look like the morally chaste sweetheart and Jackie the proverbial bitch-on-wheels, unable to contain her hostility toward the completely innocuous Kev. If this were another movie, I’d say some office politics or history had been left out. But in On the Line, her anger just seems mean: bad Jackie! Thank goodness that Kev is encouraged by mailroom clerk/spunky heart attack victim/diehard Cubbies fan Nathan (Jerry Stiller).
The most obvious point of On the Line is that it’s good to put yourself “on the line,” to commit to something even when facing possible disappointment or failure. You could make a case that the film itself is following a similar trajectory, as Lance is pursuing his own dream, to produce and star in movies (his company is Freelance Entertainment), a pursuit that will no doubt prove useful once the NSync phenom runs its course. Still, given that the currently all-powerful NSync machine is behind this first effort—with a soundtrack cd featuring tracks by NSync, Britney Spears, Vitamin C, and lo! Freelance Entertainment’s Meredith Edwards—you might also make the case that the film should be more energetic and enjoyable than it is.