Many of those who saw the Disney superhero spoof Sky High were impressed by the debut of Steven Strait. Playing the brooding school bully Warren Peace, who hurls fireballs at our heroes before showing his more sensitive and heroic side, Strait displayed a moody rock-star charisma and an impressive range in what could easily have been a two-dimensional role. It didn't hurt that Strait actually is a rock star in the making, fronting the band Tribe, whose debut album is due out soon.
But beware of too much of a good thing. Strait now has the lead role in the romantic drama Undiscovered, and it makes you wish he'd stick to supporting parts. Playing an aspiring musician should be no stretch at all, and indeed, he sings all his own stuff here. In related news, you know that forthcoming Tribe album I just mentioned? Not gonna buy it.
At the beginning of the movie, Strait's character, who has the porn-star-worthy name of Luke Falcon, has a chance encounter with a beautiful girl (Broken Flowers' Pell James) the same day he's set to leave New York for L.A. The girl's name is Brier, and she's actually a professional model, managed by her Aunt Carrie (Carrie Fisher, who deserves better). Unbeknownst to Luke, she also moves to L.A. to become an actress, where she is horrified to find that people in show biz are as mean to her as other models are. The only one who's nice is Clea (Ashlee Simpson), who's an aspiring actress and singer, which is convenient, because through her Luke and Brier get to meet up again.
So, yeah, Ashlee Simpson's in Undiscovered, and she sings. And you'll be glad when she does, because it's a huge improvement over Steven Strait. Ashlee's better at acting and singing than her more famous sister Jessica, but that's no great feat; might as well add that she'd make a better brain surgeon, too.
The central conflict is that, although Luke and Brier clearly want each other, Brier has had a bad experience with an English rock star, cleverly named "Mick" (Stephen Moyer). So she turns Luke down, then spends the rest of the movie whining and dithering about the whole thing, hooking Luke up with a successful model (Shannyn Sossamon, camping it up as a faux Brazilian) in order to boost his career, then getting upset when they actually, y'know, hook up.
One major plot question: What's the story with Luke's band? He seems to have one, but he never interacts with its members offstage at all. They just materialize onstage when needed. Shouldn't they be mad at him when he fails, or happy when he succeeds? What do they think about his love life?
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Not to be a spoilsport, but the thing culminates with a shamefully clichéd scene in which one person runs to the airport to stop another from getting on a plane. The screenplay for Undiscovered was penned by one "John Galt," who shares the name of an Ayn Rand character, and whose biography is one of few curiously missing from the official Web site's "cast and crew" section. Perhaps Rand rose from the grave and bitch-slapped Mr. Galt a few times, because his movie objectively sucks. The director is Meiert Avis, mostly known for early U2 videos, so it's probably no coincidence that the best thing in the movie is the amusing portrayal of eccentric record-company executives, notably played by Fisher Stevens and Peter Weller, the latter of whom looks like a sunburned lizard. Critically acclaimed songwriter David Baerwald did the score, which just goes to show that positive reviews don't pay the bills.
Music critics have long praised Christina Aguilera as the most vocally talented of the borderline-jailbait pop divas, but film critics ought to praise her, too -- she's the only one to date who hasn't had delusions of being a movie star (behaving like an adult movie star in public doesn't count). Ashlee Simpson's thespian work in Undiscovered may be nothing special, but it isn't significantly worse than Mandy Moore's in A Walk to Remember or Britney Spears' in Crossroads, though it's probably a slight improvement over sister Jess in The Dukes of Hazzard. And let's face it, anything's better than another Hilary Duff movie.
Steven Strait, on the other hand, is no Eddie Vedder in Singles, Jon Bon Jovi in U-571, or Jack White in Cold Mountain. He simply doesn't feel ready for the lead yet, which is kind of ironic, since that's part of what his character Luke figures out in Undiscovered. He recognizes that Simpson is a better pop star, as do we. So why did we waste all this time rooting for him to make it?
Oh, right, we didn't. That would imply some sort of emotional investment in the movie.