If Christmas "tis the season to be jolly," then January tis the season for me to watched cliched movies. Everything I see on DVD or in the theater seems to be done by people using a paint by numbers set. Originality isn't the be-all end-all of a decent movie, but it's a good start.
Amanda Bynes is so cute and appealing that you almost want everything she is in to be wonderful. It’s sad that her role-picking instincts haven’t quite caught up with her cuteness factor. In 2006, she tried to bring Shakespeare to prep school soccer in the Twelfth Night remake, She’s the Man. Unfortunately, she wasn’t. Now she’s bringing Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to the college Greek system with the pedestrian Sydney White. It’s time for Amanda to try some original material.
Bynes, naturally, plays Sydney White, a tomboy raised by her father (the barely used John Schneider) on construction sites. Sydney heads to Southern Atlantic University with a plan to pledge the Kappa Phi Nu sorority. This was her dead mother’s sorority and for reasons that are best not examined to closely, it’s important for Sydney to join as well. She doesn’t fit in with the uniformly blonde, skinny, vacuous sisters of Kappa Phi Nu, who strut in lockstep behind their leader, Rachel Witchburn (Sara Paxton.) Rachel dislikes Sydney, who has attracted the interest of the frat stud with a heart, Tyler Prince (Matt Long,) and is in danger of becoming the fairest of them all in the “Hot or Not” online survey that Rachel slavishly checks every day.
Despite all the Snow White parallels, this movie really wants to be Revenge of the Nerds rather than any updated fairly tale. Rachel’s jealousy leads Sydney to be tossed out of the Kappa house and she seeks refuge in a non-Greek house where she meets, you guessed it, seven dorky outsiders. The Seven Dorks, who despite having personality quirks that line them up fairly neatly with the respective dwarves of Disney fame, are the usual band of nerds needing to be whipped into shape to show the beautiful, popular kids that it’s what’s inside that counts! Sydney does the whipping in the guise of running one of the Dorks for student council president against, you guessed it, Rachel.
It is discouraging to see what could have been a clever parody or updating of the well known Snow Whitestory turn into another movie about accepting people who are different. A poli-sci teacher inspires Sydney to “think outside that box” when planning the campaign against Rachel, but writer Chad Gomez Creasey puts everything squarely inside the box that contains his obviously well worn Revenge of the Nerds DVD. Bynes tries her best but she can’t do much but make earnest comments about how everyone is special in their own way and get flustered whenever she sees Long without his shirt on. She is also saddled with an odd coloring style that makes it look like she had a tanning bed accident. It seems weird to bring it up, but it is very distracting.
Director Joe Nussbaum, who previously helmed one of the direct-to-DVD American Pie sequels, should have just steered this whole thing to appeal completely to its most logical target audience: 7 to 12 year old girls. The simplistic themes, one-note characterizations, and rabid stereotyping go down well with that audience. Instead, the film picked up a PG-13 rating for lines like “this is so-rority, not a ho-rority” and for making sure the nubile Kappa Phi Nu sisters are in either a low cut top or bathing suit at every turn. The movie is then adrift in one of those no-audience zones; too many adult trappings for the young kids, too few brain cells for the older kids.
In a marketing ploy that smells of desperation, the DVD box has the tag line “Amanda Bynes is Enchanting!” The attempt to draw a link between Amy Adam’s recent charmer and this movie is misplaced. It should read “Amanda Bynes is the new Robert Carradine!” The DVD release follows the lead of the movie itself in being pretty mediocre at every turn.
The disc lacks a director’s commentary, but Joe Nussbaum does get his own seven minute featurette titled “The Original Dork.” Nussbaum speaks about the movie himself and then the cast members talk about him in that fawning way actors always talk about their director in featurettes. This one is unique in that, whenever anyone else is talking about him, Nussbaum is shown doing a Rubik’s Cube in a small picture in the corner of the screen. It’s pointless, but slightly more interesting than what the actor’s are saying in their interviews.
All of the main characters get brief featurettes as well. “Sydney and Her Prince” focuses on Bynes and Long and lasts about four minutes. Everyone thinks everyone else did such a great job, surprisingly. “Meet the Dorks” allows the seven actors playing the dwarf stand-ins to talk about how funny the other actors are in their roles. “Kappa’s Forever?” is bit misleading. It has everyone talking about Paxton and how funny and wonderful she is and doesn’t mention or acknowledge any of the other Kappa girls.
The house where the dork’s live, called the Vortex, is given a behind-the-scenes tour by a couple cast members. The house isn’t particularly interesting in the context of the movie and the tour isn’t all that interesting, either. The final extra is horrible. “The Skooze” pretends that the hand puppet dog used by the Bashful Dork to communicate during the movie is a real dog and everyone talks about him as if he’s real. The puppet bursts in on a few interviews and insults the participants. They are clearly going for a Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog rip-off, but it’s only funny for about 10 seconds. Unfortunately, the extra lasts five lonnng minutes.
In addition to the featurettes, there are some deleted scenes and a gag reel. The deleted scenes are introduced by director Joe Nussbaum and he states where it should go in the movie and why it was cut. The scenes were almost all cut to “move the story along,” almost like Nussbaum realized that people wanted this thing to be over with so they could leave the theater. The deleted scenes are pretty short and the whole thing, including Nussbaum’s introductions of each clip last about ten minutes. The gag reel is pretty funny.
Except for that Skooze fiasco, there is nothing horrible about the disc extras. Anyone who enjoys the movie (and there will be a few young girls who do) will probably like that there is a good helping of extras. None of the items stand out, though, and on the whole they fade quickly from the mind. Hopefully the movie will do the same shortly.