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Sydney White (2007)

Universal Studios Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 1/22/2008

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Audio: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/16/2008

I've written before about how I love to play "Spot The Pitch". This is where I watch a film and try to imagine what kind of presentation was used to sell a film to potential investors. For the movie Sydney White, the pitch was clearly Snow White and the Seven Dwarves meets Revenge of the Nerds. When I realized this, I could clearly hear a producer saying, "No, seriously, get out of my office." However, this odd combination isn't as bizarre as it may sound and the movie works....well, the Snow White portions at least.

Amanda Bynes stars at the titular character in Sydney White. She was raised by her father (John Schneider), who is a plumber, as her mother died when Sydny was 9-years old. Because of this, Sydney grew up around construction workers and she loves football and comic books more than fashion. As the film opens, she is about to embark to her mother's alma mater, South Atlantic University, where she plans to pledge with the Kappas, where her mother was a member. Upon arriving at school, Sydney meets her roommate Dinky (Crystal Hunt), who is also pledging Kappa, and Tyler Prince (Matt Long), president of the Beta fraternity. The Kappas are ruled by Rachel Witchburn (Sara Paxton), who prides herself on being the "hottest" student on campus. She takes an immediate disliking to Sydney due to her laidback attitude and the fact that she was chatting with Tyler, whom Rachel once dated.

Although she doesn't quite fit in, Sydney endures the pledge process, only to be dismissed by Rachel in the end. Dejected and homeless, Sydney is taken in by the residents of The Vortex, a crumbling house where social rejects live. There she meets Terence (Jeremy Howard), the smart one, Gurkin (Danny Strong), the angry one, Jeremy (Adam Hendershott), the shy one, Embele (Donte Bonner), the drowsy one, Lenny (Jack Carpenter), the hypochondriac, Spanky (Samm Levine), the perky one, and George (Arnie Pantoja), the dimwitted one. Despite the fact that they are enthralled to be in the presence of a female, these "7 Dorks" taken Sydney in and make them one of her own. Having found her place on campus, Sydney sets her sights on getting revenge on Rachel.

In the event that you didn't get it the first time, let me say this again; the movie is a combination of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and Revenge of the Nerds. Credit must go to screenwriter Chad Gomez Creasey for coming up with some an odd concept. The Snow White portions of Sydney White work very well and I found myself nodding in appreciation when the movie would make a nod to that famous work. I don't want to spoil all of them for you, but the most obvious one is the "7 Dorks" and their various personality features which mirror those of the dwarves. (Extra credit for the backstory of "Sleepy".) Obviously these characters don't have the same names as the Dwarves, but knowing the concept, we can identify them as they are introduced. Rachel doesn't have a magic mirror, but she uses the school "Hot or Not" page to ensure that she's "fairest of them all". There are many more, but I think that the "poisoned apple" was my favorite.

Actually, my favorite part of the movie was Jeremey, the "bashful" Dork. He uses a puppet named Skoover, which resembles the Pets.com puppet, to speak for him. This puppet is hands-down (pun intended) the best character in the movie. . I don't know if Hendershott received coaching from a professional puppeteer, but he brings to life and the dog's reaction shots are often the funniest moments in a scene.

The Revenge of the Nerds side of the film has its moments as well, but it's not as successful simply due to a lack of originality. Actually, some of it borders on plagiarism. These dorks have no other place to go, so they've made a home for themselves where they are happy, but the Greeks want the property for themselves. But, the Dorks use their brainpower to rally the downtrodden for help. Does this sound familiar? The final scene is straight out of Revenge of the Nerds, and the big football-playing frat brother named Moose (Chris Carberg) certainly reminded me of ogre. But, maybe a younger audience who isn't familiar with Revenge of the Nerds won't notice these things.

Sydney White has some bumps, but otherwise, it should be a good movie worth recommending. However, Amanda Bynes brings the film down a notch. Now, I've liked her in the past in supporting roles, such as Hairspray, but when called upon to carry a film, her lack of acting skills shows through. If she couldn't bulge her eyes and shrug, I don't know what she would do. And, she doesn't fit the role. Sydney is supposed to be a tomboy who doesn't know what it like to be a girl. But, Sydney has one of the most orange fake tans ever and there's not a scene where she isn't wearing an obscene amount of shimmering eye makeup...even in the scene where the pledges are told to not wear makeup! Bynes doesn't feel authentic as a tomboy, a sorority pledge, or a dork, and thus the movie suffers for this.

Since the debut of Animal House, the movie landscape has been littered with raunchy college movies, so it's nice to see one which focuses more on characters than deviant behaviors. (Looking back, I'm not sure why the movie is PG-13.) And Sydney White certainly offers some interesting and unique characters (especially Skoover). The portions of the film which are lifted from Snow White are noteworthy and they almost carry the film to victory. If Bynes could have taken it down a notch, this movie could have been very good.

Sydney White goes off to work on DVD courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment. The film has come to DVD in two separate releases, one full-frame and the other widescreen. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was used. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The transfer is fairly sharp and clear, as the image shows no overt grain and no defects from the source material. This is a very colorful movies and the vibrant reds, greens, blues, and yellows look very good. On the flipside, the darker tones of The Vortex also play well. I did see some degeneration of the image detail in some shots, but otherwise the transfer is solid. Conversely, I did have some issues with the sound. The DVD has a Dolby Digital 5. 1 audio track. This track had a much lower recording level than most DVDs that I watch and I found that I had to turn the volume up to nearly twice as much as normal. Even at a high level, I felt that the audio wasn't very detailed, although I then had no trouble hearing the dialogue or sound effects. Once turned up, the track revealed some nice surround sound during music cues, but no real subwoofer action.

The DVD contains a smattering of extras, and it's never a good sign when they are kicked off by a GAG REEL (3 1/2 minutes). The DVD contains 7 DELETED SCENES which run about 12 minutes and feature introductions Director Joe Nussbaum. These are mostly brief and none contain any new information or subplots. Actually, Nussbaum's introductions (in which he tells us how great the scenes are) are longer than the scenes. "The Original Dork" (7 minutes) has Nussbaum giving an overview of the film and descriptions of the Dorks, which is then followed by the cast commenting on Nussbaum. "Sydney and Her Prince" (5 minutes) has various cast members talking about how great it was to work with Bynes and Long. "Meet the Dorks" (8 minutes) has interviews with and behind-the-scenes footage of the actors who play The Dorks. "Kappa's (sic) Forever" (4 minutes) examines Sara Paxton and her character through comments from her fellow actors. In "The Skooze" (4 minutes), the actors make shocking accusations against the puppet from the film. Actor Samm Levine gives us a tour of The Dork's house set in "Welcome to The Vortex" (5 minutes). The final extra is the THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film, which is letterboxed at 2.35:1, but not 16 x 9.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long