From “Twelfth Night” to “Snow White”: Having taken on Shakespeare in the high school-set comedy “She’s the Man,” Amanda Bynes graduates to college with the fairy-tale themed “Sydney White.” Result should satisfy Bynes fans looking for a pleasant, innocuous follow-up to her last vehicle, with B.O. in the decent if unspectacular range of “Man.” Ancillary prospects look brighter.
While it may be premature to call Bynes the reigning queen of classically-inspired teen comedy, she has carved a niche as the dependably plucky heroine (or sidekick, in “Hairspray”) of inoffensive, mildly amusing romcoms. And when it comes to her squeaky clean image, Bynes remains the fairest of them all. (Vanessa Hudgens, take note.) All of which means “Sydney White” reps an acceptable, if disappointingly safe career move for its star.
Reared by her plumber dad (John Schneider) after her mom’s death, Sydney (Bynes) is a spirited tomboy more comfortable dishing on football than fashion. When she leaves for Southern Atlantic U., however, Sydney makes the uncharacteristic decision to pledge a sorority. It’s a sentimental choice: Her mother was a Kappa.
But times have changed. Run by the self-obsessed, whippet-thin Rachel Witchburn (Sara Paxton), and populated by a pack of skinny blonde bimbettes, Kappa is the kind of sorority that gives Greek life a bad name.
Undaunted, Sydney braves the humiliating rituals of Rush Week and initiation and befriends a fellow pledge named Dinky (Crystal Hunt).
When Rachel sees her ex-flame Tyler Prince (Matt Long) take an interest in Sydney, the Kappa queen casts her rival out of the sorority house. Stumbling upon a dilapidated old dwelling known as the Vortex, Sydney becomes the guest of the seven geeky guys who live there. (Good thing Universal amended its wince-inducing original title “Sydney White and the Seven Dorks.”)
No, the guys don’t toil in a diamond mine, but they do sit around playing and parsing video games. Pic provides a few good laughs with Sydney’s arrival at the home of the socially challenged, sexually inexperienced guys.
Realizing that the evil Rachel intends to replace the Vortex with a self-named Greek Life center upon Rachel’s re-election as student body president, Sydney mounts a vigorous counter-offense, nominating the Vortex Seven for student council on a single ticket.
This earns Tyler’s affection but Rachel’s scorn, especially given Sydney’s rising status among the online ranking of hottest college coeds. Not surprisingly, Rachel resorts to cruel and humiliating tactics to undermine the campaign, the worst of which involves bribing a hacker to erase Sydney’s computer hard drive — in other words, giving the unsuspecting girl a poisoned Apple.
The infected Mac joke might be the acme of Chad Gomez Creasey’s script, which otherwise goes for the obvious. Ditto the serviceable helming by Joe Nussbaum (“George Lucas in Love”), which relies on a number of predictable sight gags. Mark Garner’s production design has convincingly dressed up its central Florida locations to yield an attractive college campus that’s fittingly rendered in Mark Irwin’s lensing.