Presumably “Sydney White and the Seven Dorks” was thought too long for the average marquee at today’s megaplexes, but it would certainly be a more descriptive title for this collegiate take on the Snow White tale. As far as these sorts of movies go, it certainly has the edge on, say, “A Cinderella Story.” But ultimately the contemporary analogues to the fairy tale are forced, and the “cliques come together” message at the close too obviously beholden to the “High School Musical” phenomenon to make this anything more than decent slumber-party fluff. It’s definitely a step below Amanda Bynes’ last vehicle, the soccer take on Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” called “She’s the Man.”
Bynes stars as the titular heroine, a tomboyish eighteen-year old who helps her widowed dad (John Schneider, so laid-back he nearly disappears) with his work as a plumber. But now she’s off to college at Southern Atlantic University, where she looks forward to bonding with the sisters at her late mother’s old sorority. Unfortunately, the house is ruled by the script’s equivalent of the evil queen, “Mean Girl” Rachel Witchford (Sara Paxton), who’s obsessed with lording it over the campus and remaining number one on its Internet-based “Hot” list. Sydney challenges her reign by promoting the idea that people should refuse to conform to stereotypes and actually befriending the seven oddball outcasts who reside in the run-down house Rachel wants to tear down to build a Greek center. What’s worse, Syd catches the eye of frat president Tyler (Matt Long), Rachel’s handsome (and sensitive) ex whom she wants back.
You can tell where this is headed—Sydney is ultimately expelled from the sorority and taken in by the geeks next door. She mobilizes them to challenge Rachel’s reign of terror by bridging the chasm among non-Greek groups while getting ever closer to Tyler. There are the usual sorts of bumps along the way—including the inevitable one where Sydney suspects that Tyler has betrayed her—and an episode involving sleep (Rachel hacks into Sydney’s computer—an Apple, of course—and destroys an essay she’s writing, forcing her to do an all-nighter that requires her to be woken by a kiss!), and though it’s all perfectly harmless, it’s never particularly winning.
The best aspect of the movie is the material involving Sydney’s dorky housemates, who may not be little people but share some of the traits of Disney’s dwarfs. With one exception—the horny guy, Spanky (Samm Levine), who’s a tiresome fellow—they prove a likable group of weirdos, pleasantly played (especially by Jack Carpenter, the Sneezy equivalent, and tall Jeremy Howard as scientific genius Terrence); and though the big finale, with its cry of “I’m a dork, too!” (redolent of “I’m Spartacus!”), comes up short (pun intended), that part of the picture is amusing enough. But all the business centering on Rachel is weak because it’s so agonizingly familiar, and the romantic angle is pretty feeble, too—in large measure because neither the haughty Paxton nor the bland Long makes much of an impression.
Bynes, on the other hand, makes too much. She’s an agreeable young actress, but has a tendency to mug and force things overmuch—an inclination indulged by director Joe Nussbaum (whose approach is otherwise a mite lax)—and the script paints her character in terms so perfect that one might be inclined to sympathize with Rachel for disliking her. (What twenty-one year old woman wouldn’t hate a girl who can scarf down a whole cream pie, as well as big breakfasts and apparently any other food she’s moved to eat, without even gaining an ounce? Now that’s really fantasy.)
“Sydney White” is nicely appointed for a piece aimed at the younger crowd, with a decent production (design by Mark Garner) and art direction (Andrew White) and nice cinematography (by Mark Irwin). But while amiable, it doesn’t manage to be inventive enough to escape the feeling that this is a fairy tale that hasn’t been sufficiently fractured.