Millennium Entertainment // 2012 // 94 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // February 4th, 2013
Meet the FBI's new secret weapon!
Growing up is difficult. Growing up in Hollywood is nearly impossible. For child actors, there is the crucial period of adolescence they must navigate like all, but they have the added burden of doing it in the spotlight. Since filmmakers love to cast twenty-somethings as teens, and teens as helpless kids, young actors have to figure out what roles to take to transition from "child actor" to just "actor." The group that have it the worst are Disney kids. They play such wholesome characters for so long it can be difficult for them to develop the skills necessary for more diverse roles, and they constantly have to deal with an audience that won't take them seriously. This is often why you see a lateral "hop" into the music world, where a couple of sexy singles make the adulthood transition less painful. Then there's the Anne Hathaway route, which involves starring in a bunch of hardcore indie flicks. Miley Cyrus seems to be choosing the middle way: starring in the same kind of "light" entertainment Disney specializes in, but for a slightly older demographic. Unsurprisingly, it doesn't quite work.
Molly Morris (Miley Cyrus, Hannah Montana) is the daughter of a private detective who sometimes works on her father's cases. The FBI needs someone to infiltrate a local sorority to watch over the daughter of a witness in an organized crime case. Naturally, Agent Armon Rand (Jeremy Piven, Entourage) hires Molly. Fearing that the mob has also infiltrated the sorority, Molly must investigate her new sisters while juggling the joys or college and the affections of a college boy.
The first problem that So Undercover has to deal with is the fact that it's a tired, tired premise. Taking the street-smart tough girl and making her live amongst the shallow and fashion-obsessed has been done to death (see, for instance, Miss Congeniality). Add to the fact that Molly is the daughter of a PI, and you've got shades of Veronica Mars as well. The plot, from the threatening mob to the romantic overtures of the cute boy have all been done to death as well. This film adds literally nothing to the canon of college films or detecting films.
The second problem is the film's star, Miley Cyrus. So Undercover is not a big-budget, high-concept work of filmmaking. However, it's also not a bargain-basement sitcom. It requires a delicate balance between the comedy and the drama driving the plot. Jeremy Piven gets this balance, offering a broad interpretation of an FBI agent that is still fundamentally serious. Cyrus never quite gets there; too often she relies on her wide eyes, and I half expect a "wah, wah, wah" sound effect to blast from the speakers after she delivers some lines. It's not necessarily bad per se, but it feels like she's in a different movie from the rest of the actors.
Finally, the film doesn't know who its target demographic is. The obvious presence of Miley Cyrus would indicate that the film is relying on her tween fans to sell the flick. That's fine and all, but the film is rated PG-13 for "some mature and suggestive content" of the kind that parents might not want their young children watching. For adults, of course, there's little appeal to watching Miley Cyrus play a college girl, since we've seen this story before and done much better. With a bit less maturity, it could be a sweet portrait of college for the young ones -- with a bit more raunch, it could have at least been amusing to hear Hannah Montana curse. Instead, it's the worst of both worlds.
At least So Undercover (Blu-ray) is solid on the technical front. The 2.35:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfer has a pleasing, contemporary look. Generally bright and well-detailed, this transfer shows good color saturation, solid black levels, and no significant compression or digital artefacts. It doesn't look like a showstopper, but for those who want to watch the film the transfer doesn't get in the way. Similarly, the Dolby TrueHD keeps dialogue audible and centered throughout. During party scenes, the surrounds come alive, and there's pretty good stereo separation throughout. Balance between music and dialogue is well-maintained. No extras are included, however.
In defense of So Undercover, the cast is at least game for the recycled script. Jeremy Piven doesn't act like he's slumming in a film this far beneath him, and the rest of the younger actors seem happy enough to be involved. Miley Cyrus is game, too, but her sitcom experience seems to have hampered her ability to underplay comedy.
So Undercover isn't a great film, but no one will be surprised. Fans of the Hannah Montana actress might want to check this one out, even if the film aims a bit over the heads of that tween audience. Even the decent audiovisual presentation can't bump this flick beyond a rental recommendation for serious Cyrus fans.
Guilty. This one should've remained undercover.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Millennium Entertainment
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13