I’ve felt stupid buying movie tickets before; I paid for Valiant at one of those automatic credit-card kiosks outside the box office just to avoid the inevitably curious looks from the 16-year-old behind the glass of the ticket window. But I’ve never been as ashamed to be part of the movie-going public as I was the other night when those fateful words escaped my lips: “One for Undiscovered, please.”
The kid paused and grinned. “Ashlee Simpson fan, huh?” I meekly shrugged, took my ticket and walked quickly, head down, to the theater so that I could wait in dishonorable silence for what would turn out to be the worst film of 2005. I know it’s early to make such predictions, and that with many weeks ahead of us until award season, some other movie might come out of the woodwork and claim the crown for the worst film of the year, but I’ll burn that bridge when I get there. For now, know this: Undiscovered is a cliched, poorly written, clumsily acted, worthless, downright awful movie, peppered with banal pop-rock songs from the story’s wannabe rocker and doleful looks from the girl who just can’t admit she likes him, you know, like a boyfriend.
Luke Falcon (Steven Strait) moves to L.A. to make it as a musician, despite having a pretty awesome handle for a porn star. He plays for tips at a local bar, offering up Hallmark-level lyrics and recycled hooks to produce what could be called Nickelback Lite for a crowd of adoring local groupies include a group of struggling young actors from a nearby Strasberg theater, among them the irrepressible free spirit Clea (Simpson), whom we can tell is a free spirit because she’s always wearing a hat or cap of some kind, which is how cool kids identify each other in SoCal. One night Clea brings her friend Brier (Pell James) to see Luke play, and it’s puppy love. Just before leaving New York for the West Coast, Luke and Brier exchange furtive junior-high-in-love looks on the subway, so their reunion must be fate. Brier is a model who wants to be an actress, a role that’s probably autobiographical for James. Brier is cute but forgettable, a young woman with no specific talent yet still able to find work. We only see her working once, at a photo shoot, but she and Clea must be doing something to earn enough money to keep paying for cover and drinks at all the bars they frequent.
Brier uses her modeling contacts, including boss Carrie (Carrie Fisher), to build artificial buzz about Luke and attract attention from record companies, including the label Tantra, run by Garrett Schweck (Fisher Stevens). Luke begins to taste the fleeting fame of one-hit-wonderdom, no longer content to hang out with his own free-spirited counterpart, his brother Euan (Kip Pardue). Euan says things like, “Be Zen, brother,” both adding to the film’s sadly realistic inclusion of the many absurd, fabricated identities in L.A. and to its sheer unwatchability. One keeps hoping that Euan will find his way back to 1975, but alas, he’s around for every one of the movie’s 97 excruciating minutes.
Cinematographer Danny Hiele is fond of losing frame and forcing the image out of focus, but these and other tricks give Undiscovered the feel of a student film, not the sophisticated drama it wants to be. Director Meiert Avis, whose only previous feature was the 1989 Drew Barrymore vehicle Far From Home, is simply content to let his young, untalented actors wander around and recite some amusingly abysmal dialogue. One of my favorites was Luke’s plea to Brier: “When are we gonna break out of the friend zone?” I guess screenwriter John Galt hasn’t figured out that asking that question usually isn’t the best course of action. I also enjoyed Clea’s description of Luke’s music: “His work defies classification. He’s like a cross between Jeff Buckley and Elvis Costello.” Although I guess my favorite line comes from one of Luke’s songs, in regards to love: “Like a boomerang through my heart.”
The sad surprise is that Ashlee herself sings with Luke onstage several times, and even gets to warble through the song Luke writes called “Undiscovered” as the viewers are treated to a montage of all the annoying scenes we’ve had to watch for the past hour and a half. Simpson’s father and manager, Joe, is credited as one of the film’s executive producers, and it feels like his presence forced Ashlee to the musical forefront of the film.
Predictable drama keeps Luke and Brier from declaring their mutual undying love until he catches up to her on her plane to New York and pours his heart out to the applause of the nicest airplane crowd in history. And everything’s OK again. Hooray. For a minute there, things almost got suspenseful.
Overall, Undiscovered is an uncongealed mass of hackneyed lines, cardboard characters, and worthless scenes parading as a movie. But with almost universal critical disapproval and low box-office predictions, it’s possible that many people might never see this film. They’re the lucky ones.
Daniel Carlson is the L.A. critic for Pajiba and a copy editor for a Hollywood industry magazine. You can visit his weblog, Slowly Growing Bald.
Undiscovered / Daniel Carlson
Film | May 12, 2006 | Comments ()