EmptySnow White goes to college, emboldens a nerdy group of seven outcasts and vanquishes the evil witch in the plodding "Sydney White." Like many Hollywood interpretations of fairy tales, this Amanda Bynes starrer draws its inspiration not from the Oedipal, bloody folk legend recorded by the brothers Grimm but from the pop-culture Disney version. Cute and cartoonish rule the day, and teens and tweens will be the film's chief audience when it opens wide against R-rated genre pics and the fall's tonier fare.
Chad Gomez Creasey's occasionally clever script is a clunky mix of cartoonish caricature and feel-good message-mongering. Director Joe Nussbaum ("George Lucas in Love") brings an affection for outsiders to the material, but the film takes far too long to build momentum.
Despite her real-girl appeal as the title character, Bynes, who was terrific in "Hairspray," can't overcome the heavy-handedness of the dialogue. Raised by her widowed plumber father (John Schneider), Sydney is a tomboy who knows her way around a construction site but has no experience on the social scene. She arrives at Florida's Southern Atlantic U. with a scholarship and a suitcase full of comic books and quickly catches the eye of dreamy, clean-cut Tyler Prince (Matt Long). That puts her in the sights of his ex, uber-meanie Rachel Witchburn (Sara Paxton), who rules the sisterhood of bleached blondes known as Kappa Phi Nu. The film's dramatic high points usually involve someone calling Rachel a bitch.
Kappa happens to be the sorority of Sydney's beloved mother, but even with her sparkly eye shadow and borrowed dresses, she has no chance against the conniving Rachel, who soon banishes the frosh pledge. Sydney finds refuge at the Vortex, the dilapidated house of seven socially challenged dorks of the Sneezy/Bashful/Sleepy variety.
This is no "Ball of Fire," Bynes no Stanwyck, but her Sydney is a spark of life in the sheltered world of her ridiculous roomies, among them a sweet hypochondriac (Jack Carpenter), a gangly science geek (Jeremy Howard) and a permanently jet-lagged Nigerian transfer student (Donte Bonner). Nussbaum orchestrates some nice comic moments with this bunch -- like their collective awe, to the strains of Strauss, at the sight of Sydney's sports bra drying in the bathroom.
She pushes them to get involved in student politics, challenging the Witchburn oligarchy and turning the film into a tepid lesson in campaign democracy. The Freedom to the Seventh Power ticket reaches out to ROTC and LGBT alike, not to mention Hasidic Jews and the marching band. The need to belong, the value of diversity and the right to stand up to injustice are all folded into the cliched cry of emancipation for everyone's inner dork.
Amid its easy shots at conformism and the creepier aspects of Greek life, Gomez Creasey's script transposes some fairy-tale elements to the digital age in clever, if obvious, ways: The witch's magic mirror becomes Rachel's laptop screen, on which she daily checks her standing as No. 1 in the campus' "Hot or Not" rankings on MySpace. The poisoned apple, alas, is a virus-infected Mac.
Technical and design contributions are polished, with Orlando locations creating a fittingly idyllic campus setting.
James G. Robinson presents a Morgan Creek production
Director: Joe Nussbaum
Screenwriter: Chad Gomez Creasey
Producers: James G. Robinson, Clifford Werber, David Robinson
Executive producers: Guy McElwaine, Wayne Morris
Director of photography: Mark Irwin
Production designer: Mark Garner
Music: Deborah Lurie
Co-producer: Dara Resnik Creasey
Costumer designer: Beverly Safier
Editor: Danny Saphire
Sydney White: Amanda Bynes
Rachel: Sara Paxton
Tyler: Matt Long
Lenny: Jack Carpenter
Terrence: Jeremy Howard
Dinky: Crystal Hunt
Jeremy: Adam Hendershott
Gurkin: Danny Strong
Spanky: Samm Levine
Christy: Libby Mintz
Paul White: John Schneider
George: Arnie Pantoja
Embele: Donte Bonner
Professor Carleton: Brian Patrick Clarke
Katy: Lauren Leech
Running time -- 107 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13