"Sydney White" has an all-too-cutesy premise: it's a slapstick update of "Snow White," set on a college campus. Instead of dwarves, we have dorks...that sort of thing. The idea isn't sturdy enough to support an entire feature film, yet "Sydney" features a rather jovial execution that not only helps the picture survive itself, but manages to produce a stunningly entertaining teen comedy.
Sydney (Amanda Bynes, in there somewhere under a shellacking of bronzer) is a tomboyish outsider newly arrived at a Florida university where she hopes to pledge the same sorority as her deceased mother. The Alpha sister is Rachel (Sara Paxton), who doesn't want the dowdy threat anywhere near her Greek neighborhood, and banishes Sydney to a condemned house inhabited by seven nerds of all shapes and sneezes (including Samm Levine and Danny Strong). Looking to end Rachel's reign of terror, Sydney leads the dorks into battle, challenging Rachael politically and socially as she helps the guys come out of their shells.
While lacking the desired snap to its bubblegum, "Sydney White" shows much more buoyancy and mallrat wit than your average teen diversion. Director Joe Nussbaum finds the plucky spirit of the production quickly, bouncing the film around playfully, having fun with the "Snow White" structure and the geek world, which apparently means lots of "Star Wars" references and virginity jokes. Not uproarious material, but "Sydney" gets away with the obvious with a smiling presentation and swift pace.
Besides, it's hard to hate a film that employs a Bad English song as a means of romantic articulation.
Painless, lighthearted material is what Amanda Bynes seems meant for during her cinema stint, chalking "Sydney" up as another pleasing comedy from the young star. Actually, Bynes isn't really the center of attention here (those dorks muscle in on her close-ups), but she's indicative of the entire film in the way she plays silly without winking and feels comfortable giving the supporting cast their shot at laughs.
The actors portraying the dork squad fill their casting requirements delightfully, but I wish these social rejects were played with a little more risk. "Sydney" keeps all the losers in permo-cute mode, hoping not to creep out the room, but their antics never go past computer jokes and hand-puppet humor. It's a shame there's no sense of comedic danger here.
As for those "Snow White" callbacks, we do have a Prince Charming (here in the form of a golden-hearted frat boy), the aforementioned seven dorks, the evil witch, the reanimating kiss, and the poison apple. Actually, how "Sydney" incorporates the apple is quite clever. There's even a "hi-ho" joke, though in a far more lewd context than originally intended, I'm sure.
Even with a reservoir of ripe campus humor, "Sydney" becomes sidetracked in the final round, trying to act as commercial for nerd acceptance. It strains the already thin material and coaxes the film into more tiresome terrain. "Sydney White" isn't groundbreaking scripting to begin with, but to sharpen the film to a point like this overtaxes the humor and sends what is otherwise a very pleasant diversion into a tailspin of stupidity.
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