Saturday, November 22, 2008

Sidney White and the Seven Dorks

Revenge of the Nerds meets Snow White. You just know that's how the Amanda Bynes vehicle Sydney White was pitched. What's interesting is that the Snow White parts work a lot better than the Nerds parts.

Amanda Bynes got to be famous when I wasn't paying attention to kid shows, particularly girl-oriented kid shows--that narrow window--and so when she starred in What A Girl Wants I was like, "Ooh! Amanda Bynes in a movie! Wow! Who's Amanda Bynes?" And, honestly, I've had the same reaction every subsequent time she impinged on my consciousness.

These channels, particularly Nickelodeon and Disney, act as grooming areas for the next generation of stars--quite effectively, I think. You know, when they remade all those horror movies after Scream, while the movies weren't very good, the one thing they had over the old movies is that the acting was a zillion times better.

Take the not very good late '90s horror film Disturbing Behavior. Not a great movie, but the kids include Katie Holmes (Thank You For Smoking), James Marsden (who would go on to be in Hairspray with Bynes), Nick Stahl (of the late, lamented "Carnivale" series) and Katharine Isabelle (who's not as big a star but a fine actress nonetheless).

Of course, the adult cast (Bruce Greenwood, Steve Railsback, William Sadler) and the production also kick ass over the old ones, which suggests there was a lot more money in the new movies. But I think there were also a lot fewer young adult actors who had been through the day-to-day grind of TV shows production.

Disturbing Behavior, by the way, was written by a chief writer on one of Trooper York's new favorites: Life on Mars. Interesting that the whole movie isn't much better.

Anyway, Bynes is sufficiently charming. More than sufficient. She does the "adorable but accessible" thing perfectly. Her foil is Sara Paxton, who does a good "Evil Queen" even though she's been a convincing protagonist in her own right in such tweenie fare as Aquamarine. (And she's going to be in the remake of Last House on the Left...[shudder].)

The premise is that tomboy Bynes raised by widowed plumbing contractor John Schneider (who's career has finally recovered from his success as a Duke boy) goes off to college and to the sorrority her mother used to belong to. The Evil Queen running the sorrority drums her out, and she ends up in the wilderness.

That's when the seven dorks living in the run-down house at the end of Greek Row invite her in. She does some Snow White-style cleaning up, and runs a campaign against the Evil Queen to get her and the dorks into the student council.

What makes the movie watchable is really the little references to Snow White. For example, the magic mirror is a "Hot or Not" list, and Paxton is pretty hilarious with her over-the-top outrage over Bynes climbing up the rankings. The poisoned apple turns out to be a virus-infected Mac. "Hi ho!" becomes "Hi, ho."

And of course, you find yourself going, "Oh, that one's Sleepy. That one's Sneezy." Happy is, for this updated version, Horny. And Arnie Pantoja as George does the most overt imitation of Dopey from the movies.

Just as these clever interpretations liven up the proceedings, using the Revenge of the Nerds framework drags it down. Although I liked Nerds, it's far from a great movie, and when this film does the "I'm a nerd" scene at the end as "I'm a dork," it's pretty weak. They sort of punted on the whole framework of the movie.

The film isn't really raunchy, and Matt Long, who plays the Prince Charming character, manages not to come off like a douchebag. Most of the naughty bits are on the level of comments you might hear in a primetime sitcom. (The Flower basically misses them.)

Apparently Bynes lost her hair doing a short role in Hairspray and so wears a wig throughout, also, her makeup reminds me of Juilanne Moore in Boogie Nights.

Little things like this aside, the movie turns out to be a not unpleasant 1:45.

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