A Montage Every Ten Minutes: So Undercover (2012)
By Kimber Benton & Mary "Stormer" Phillips · Oct 10, 2013
Just FYI, this article contains material that might be considered spoilery based on our spoiler policy. In this instance, that includes discussion of stuff that happens. Like the big "twist." Which is super lame.
Kimber: We watched So Undercover. Its first montage occurs ten minutes into the film. Its second occurs ten minutes later.
Stormer: …and right after that Miley Cyrus said the name of the film out loud!
Kimber: It’s a montage every ten minutes!
Stormer: Of billionaire Miley Cyrus pretending to be a real girl!
Kimber: Oh, Miley. Although, we probably shouldn’t be too hard on her for this. She did say in her documentary that the experience of doing this movie—I assume it was this movie, anyways—convinced her that she should stick to music.
Stormer: I guess. But she said it in this way that made it seem like the experience itself was the trying thing. Which, maybe it was, but I would have respected her a helluva lot more if she had said, “I made that movie, but while doing it I realized I wasn’t a particularly good actor, so…y’know, I probably shouldn’t make movies anymore.”
Kimber: Plus, I guess, we’ll see if 5 years from now if her music career isn’t going so well if she tries to do movies again. Because…she isn’t a particularly good musician, either. But she is real good at trying to be famous and making mad cash while doing so. I can’t believe she makes, like, $50 million a year.
Stormer: Come on, Kim. That’s because she is an amazing musician. I know that because she sincerely believes that about herself. She believes it so much it’s kind of
aggravating inspiring. I loved when she kept going on in that documentary about how she just knew “We Can’t Stop” was the right choice for the first single from Bangerz even when others disagreed, like that song is this oddball, progressive, speculative choice that was going to transform music and only Miley Cyrus was artist enough to recognize that fact, and not just some catchy but mostly generic hip hop beat with her singing over it.
Kimber: Caution, Mare. You’re going to get Miley’s The Movement mad ‘atcha!
Stormer: Dear The Movement: I think “We Can’t Stop” is a great song. But let’s not pretend it’s some world-shaking piece of music that will rewrite pop music for the next decade.
Kimber: They can’t stop, though, Mare. You can’t stop them.
Stormer: Heh. But one more thing: even if she hated this movie so much, she still managed to shove a couple of her own songs on the soundtrack.
Kimber: That’s because Miley Cyrus likes to make money even when she’s making art she doesn’t believe in. But let’s be fair: can you imagine what it must be like to be that rich at age 20, and only just starting what you perceive to be the “serious” portion of you career? Of course you’re going to believe that you’re untouchable, because you’ve never ever failed before. So of course you’re going to decide, “I’m a serious musician now; deal with it!” Even this movie is just an exception that proves her new rule, which is why she’s able to admit she shouldn’t have done it. Because that admission fits the new narrative she has about herself. Or, if you want to be cynical, the new narrative she’s telling about herself.
Stormer: What about The Last Song? Or LOL? Were those mistakes too?
Kimber: I assume Cyrus was talking about So Undercover ‘cause the other ones were filmed before she actively decided to dramatically change her image.
Stormer: The time she tried to dramatically change her image with Can’t Be Tamed? Or the time she tried to dramatically change her image with Bangerz?
Kimber: The Movement doesn’t like you pointing out all of these inconsistencies!
Stormer: Fine. Plus, if we don’t leave this discussion here, we’ll never be able to talk about how awesome So Undercover is!
Kimber: Is it awesome, exactly?
Stormer: Autumn Reeser is pretty awesome as Bizzy in the first montage scene where she tries to sororitize unfashionable ole’ Miley Cyrus for her big undercover op!
Kimber: That’s true. That scene is genuinely funny, and it miraculously is so without resorting to the types of jokes you would expect in such a makeover scene. Reeser should get all the Oscars just for the way she pronouces “fuschia” alone. Not to mention “jumbo pack.”
Stormer: Reeser sells the shit out of that scene.
Kimber: I guess we should back up and introduce the plot. The story is that Molly Morris (Cyrus) is the daughter of a disgraced police officer and private detective (Mike O’Malley). Because of the skills she has learned helping her father on the job, she gets tapped by Armon Ranford (Jeremy Piven) to go undercover in a New Orleans sorority to protect Alex Patrone (Lauren McKnight), the daughter of an informant who has rankled the Georgian mafia. As you might guess, the movie has more than a little Veronica Mars in its DNA, and the film sets up similar character traits with Molly—
Stormer: Though it executes them poorly.
Kimber: Yes, and—
Stormer: And given that the song that plays over the opening credits is “One Way or Another,” which is one of Kristen Bell’s defining moments in Veronica Mars, when Veronica does it at karaoke, I’d say it’s more than more than a little DNA.
Kimber: Sure, but—
Stormer: Like, can you imagine that conversation? One filmmaker must have been, like, “do you realize that the song you want to use in this film that is essentially a Veronica Mars rip off is a song that was prominently used in Veronica Mars?” Was the other guy then, like, “well do you realize that there’s literally only one song in existence that makes sense in a movie about a young female private detective? Sheesh!”?
Kimber: Heh. But I do like that it acknowledges that Molly’s work as a P.I. investigating cheating husbands and wives, not to mention her dad’s problems with gambling, would make it almost impossible for her to trust people—even if, yes, that’s a direct rip off of Veronica Mars’s primary character trait. But you’re absolutely right about the execution. This film fumbles that ball once Molly’s trust issues have been established by having Molly mistrust all of the innocent people in the story while, for no apparent reason, fully trusting the bad guy. Who turns out to have been Armon all along.
Stormer: Can you believe Piven in this film? He’s really giving it his all!
Kimber: Well…the scene where he argues about the appropriate use of the term “bat phone” is pretty amusing.
Stormer: Maybe. But this is also a character who in one scene makes Cyrus meet him in this obscure location far away from campus for security reasons and then just shows up on campus for the rest of the film. It has got to be annoying to play a moron, right?
Kimber: The thing that baffles me about this film is that the make-over scene at the beginning is so snarky and funny—when Bizzy’s assistant asks if Molly cut her own hair during “an earthquake” the expression on his face is amazing, and even Bizzy’s Trident gum product placement bit is hilarious—but then the moment Molly enters the sorority (as her new identity, Brooke Stonebridge) the movie stops being funny. Like, at all. In a sorority house. Even Sorority Row, as offensive as it was, had occasionally funny moments.
Stormer: Mostly due to Leah Pipes, who may I just say thus far is being misused horribly on The Originals?
Kimber: My favorite part of the movie is when Molly keeps pulling a gun on various sorority sisters. Everybody thinks that’s really strange but nobody ever, like, calls the police.
Stormer: My favorite part is when Molly almost burns down the house by knocking over candles when she thinks that some frat boys are actually assassins trying to off Alex. Even though Armon has patiently explained like 12 times already that the Georgian mafia doesn’t actually want to kill Alex because doing so would almost certainly provoke her father into testifying. They merely want to use the threat of assassination as leverage to keep him from testifying.
Kimber: Which really makes you wonder why her FBI handler (Matthew Settle) doesn’t just spirit her away into the witness protection program.
Stormer: I don’t think logic applies to a movie where Molly can’t figure out what “amazeballs” means and uses it incorrectly throughout the course of the film.
Kimber: That’s another weird thing, I think, because the film wants to have Molly be this competent overachiever and to be a fish out of water in the sorority. Which worked in a film like Miss Congeniality—another property this movie borrows heavily from—but doesn’t here, because any Molly-based slapstick isn’t really grounded in Molly’s character at all. She just…does stupid things occasionally.
Stormer: And arbitrarily. She acts essentially like herself in the house, hardly using sorority lingo at all, but then in criminology class or when she meets her love interest Nicholas Dexter (Josh Bowman) she suddenly remembers she’s supposed to be Brooke, innocuous sorority sister, and starts playing dumb for no reason. It’s not like Nicholas is going to run to Kappa and declare that Brooke probably isn’t who she says she is because she knows what model motor his vintage motorbike has.
Kimber: Or when she gets caught breaking into Alex’s room and the best excuse she can come up with is that she wanted to borrow her thong. It would be different if all of her foibles were caused by her misreading people based on her P.I. experience—which is a thing Veronica Mars also played with, because Veronica was frequently wrong when she assumed somebody was acting underhanded—but it’s not that. She just sleeps with a gun under her pillow, and is constantly pulling it on people.
Stormer: To which they’re always like, “whoa there. I’m sure there are people actually worth shooting around here, but I just wanted to see if I could borrow your thong, which is a thing I heard we sorority sisters were doing now.”
Kimber: And those sorority sisters! I also think the movie fails because it half-assedly tries to set up a kind of Mean Girls/Heathers thing where there are four main sorority sisters, but none of them are articulated particularly well, and then on top of that they throw Alex and Becky (Kelly Osbourne).
Stormer: There’s queen bee Sasha Stolezinsky (Eloise Mumford), who turns out to secretly be from a trashy background she is ashamed of.
Kimber: Character: done!
Stormer: There’s Cotton Roberts (Megan Park), the dumb one, who is secretly smart.
Kimber: Character: done!
Stormer: There’s Taylor Jaffe (Alexis Knapp), essentially playing the same role she played in Pitch Perfect.
Kimber: Character: done!
Stormber: There’s Hunter Crawford (Morgan Calhoun). She is the sorority sister of color.
Kimber: Character: done!
Stormer: There’s Alex Patrone, the one who Molly is supposed to protect.
Kimber: She doesn’t even need a character, right?
Stormer: And there’s Becky Slotsky, the one who is actually cool but still likes living in a sorority, we guess.
Kimber: It’s like somebody watched the season three episode of Veronica Mars where Veronica pledges at a Hearst sorority and then also Sydney White and Mean Girls and House Bunny and Sorority Row and decided they better cover all the possible permutations of filmed sorority characters.
Stormer: Other than Alex, only Cotton and Sasha get real subplots, both of which are real minor.
Kimber: Taylor, I guess, has that thing about brandy and water retention, which endears her to Molly. Molly finds out that Sasha is actually Suzy Walters, kleptomaniac, but doesn’t out her to the rest of the sisters. Molly helps Cotton dispense with a real dick of a boyfriend and applauds her homemade chemistry/perfumery experiments that the other sisters laugh at. She doesn’t really do anything to specifically endear Hunter, but I guess Hunter is so impressed that Molly helped out all her white sisters that things are cool?
Stormer: She is a robust character! It baffles me why they didn’t just make Sasha or Taylor or Cotton or Becky black.
Kimber: I think it’s because they knew they needed to have a non-white sister or they’d get criticized, but they were also afraid to cast an actor of color in any of the other roles because they’re all portrayed in humorous but unfavorable ways. Except Becky, but maybe there they were afraid to cast an actor of color in the sassy role.
Stormer: Dumb. Wait. Not dumb. Racist. Well. Dumb and racist.
Kimber: But so the point is Molly unites all the sisters to become closer and then uses their specific skill sets to rally around Alex and to catch Armon at the end. By which I mean she uses Sasha’s skill as a kleptomaniac—which in this movie translates into her also being a skilled pickpocketer—to steal Armon’s keys to free Alex from his locked car and a can of homemade mace Cotton gave her earlier that…doesn’t really have an effect on the outcome of the movie anyway. But they save Alex, and become friends, and Molly gives the FBI the computer chip Alex keeps hidden in a necklace around her neck, and they reinstate her dad, and Molly stays at the sorority and attends university and dates Nicholas and everybody is happy.
Stomer: My favorite part is when Nicholas takes Molly to a jazz club. Which is slightly less lame than it would normally be, because the movie is set in New Orleans, but still! “Wanna go to a jazz club! It’s, like, real music for college kids!”
Kimber: “Is it a montage of jazz music?”
Stormer: “Is jazz music the music of the future? Should that be where Miley The Movement goes next?”
Kimber: “You’re a real Billie Holiday, Miley. I mean, Molly.”
Stormer: Seriously, though. Miley Cyrus is horrible in this film.
Kimber: Just at the level of line readings. She hasn’t advanced past her Disney show mugging.
Stormer: She can’t stop!