There are probably a great many detractors of musician-actress Ashlee Simpson who were waiting for her to fall on her face in her first major feature film role (she previously had a bit part in 2002's "The Hot Chick
"), but I'm not one of them. Despite what the naysayers may like to think, she is a talented songwriter who brought real passion to her 2004 debut album, "Autobiography," and it is that straightforward, unforced approach that she also exudes in her acting. Simpson only has a supporting role, but she is far and away the best thing about "Undiscovered," a puerile indie drama that deceptively starts off as an effectively gritty film about trying to make it in the shark tank of the Hollywood scene before throwing it all away in lieu of a painfully shallow romance.
Months after sharing a solitary moment of connection on a Manhattan subway, model-turned-aspiring-actress Brier Tucket (Pell James) and struggling musician Luke Falcon (Steven Strait) meet again by chance at an L.A. nightclub. Luke wants to pursue a relationship from the get-go ("When are we gonna start going out?" he asks her point-blank in one of countless dialogue clunkers), but Brier is hesitant and currently seeing a clearly unfaithful rocker named Mick Benson (Stephen Moyer). Nevertheless, Brier can't help but want Luke to succeed in the business, and sets out with new best friend Clea (Ashlee Simpson) to hire a famous Brazilian supermodel, Josie (Shannyn Sossamon), to garner him press by posing in a paparazzi picture with him. Luke doesn't know this, but when he and Josie starting seeing each other regularly, Brier fears her chance with him may have passed her by.
As a story about trying to succeed in the show-biz world, "Undiscovered" hardly has time to broach the subject, let alone treat it with any level of depth, before self-destructing into a hollow, cliched love story. It's too bad, because debuting director Meiert Avis shows a real technical panache, giving the scenes a raw, handheld, you-are-there feel to them. If "Undiscovered" doesn't aesthetically look like a rejected show from the WB network, everything else about it certainly does. The young adult characters, most notably protagonists Brier and Luke, treat relationships with the level of sophistication an 11-year-old might, and hardly a line goes by from anyone that doesn't pertain to why or why not these two one-dimensional stick figures should be together. Side information is brought up and then promptly forgotten about (at one point, Brier mentions she is up for a deodorant commercial, but then it isn't mentioned again), and other characters are so vaguely developed that it never becomes clear who they are and what their own career goals are.
Meanwhile, the dialogue from a script by first-timer John Galt is at times almost laughably simplistic and naive. When Brier and Luke get into an argument and she says, "I'm sorry I hurt you," his corny response is, "You didn't hurt me; you killed me. Thank you." That, folks, is what could only be found in the pages of a very bad script in need of a rewrite. Lord knows people don't really talk or act like the ones seen here. If they do, we're all in trouble. The climax is no better, with one of those obligatory chases to the airport to catch the other person. Predictably, the make-up scene on the airplane is met with a round of applause from those phony movie-style passengers/guests who are on hand for the sole purpose of oohing and aahing at the lovebirds. This strenuously conventional moment, while overplayed, wouldn't have been quite as maddening if the viewer had grown to care about Brier and Luke, but we haven't.
The distinct lack of chemistry between lead actors Pell James (2005's "Broken Flowers
") and real-life rising singer Steven Strait (2005's "Sky High
") does not escape unnoticed. Besides delivering forgettable performances apart, together there is no heat, no immediacy, and no believable connection. On a positive note, Strait does have an effective deep singing voice, one that he puts to use over and over for a round of musical numbers that pad out the running time. They, as well as Ashlee Simpson's two song performances (one being a duet with Strait, the other being the title track), invigorate the proceedings with just about the only life there is in sight. Singing or not, Simpson is natural and innately likable as Clea, Brier's wisdom-spouting friend. When Clea discovers that Brier plans to move back to New York City, Simpson's conflicted, even poignant, reaction shot is as close as the film ever gets to real honesty. While a supporting role was a smart choice for Simpson's first big foray into features, she is already head and shoulders above big sister Jessica's recent robotic acting abilities seen in "The Dukes of Hazzard
," and could undoubtedly carry the lead next time around. Finally, Carrie Fisher (2004's "Stateside
") brings some sparks to her scenes as Brier's straight-talking agent.
"Undiscovered" is the type of misguided film project that, time and again, the audience must shake their heads in disbelief at the level of falsehood found on the written page. A love story that isn't romantic or believable and a making-it-in-the-big-city tale uninterested in being a making-it-in-the-big-city tale, the picture meanders without anything of note to say or do. Granted, there may not be an evil twin or freak car accident in sight, but that doesn't stop "Undiscovered" from holding the same level of insight as an everyday episode of "The Young and the Restless."