Miley Cyrus made a name for herself on the small screen in the dual role of Miley Stewart/Hannah Montana, and she’s pulling double time again in comedy So Undercover. Here, riffing on Miss Congeniality, Cyrus plays Molly, a teen working as a private eye to cover her dad’s gambling debts. Her skills at photographing cheating spouses catch the eye of FBI agent Armon (Jeremy Piven), who hires her to go undercover at a sorority to protect a girl whose father is about to testify against mobsters.
In a whirlwind makeover by a camp hair stylist and hipster fashionista (both, bizarrely, on the FBI payroll!) she’s remade as Brooke Stonebridge, the latest inductee to Kappa Kappa Zeta house. Her sisters include Alex (Lauren McKnight), the girl Molly has to survey, entitled princess Sasha (Eloise Mumford) and smart-mouthed roommate Becky (Kelly Osbourne). Outside of the girls’ house, there’s a love interest for Molly in the form of Revenge’s Josh Bowman.
Billed as an action-comedy, So Undercover suffers by virtue of having little in the way of action set-pieces, and even less when it comes to laughs. Excruciating phrases like “amazeballs” are thrown around with gleeful abandon as the movie casually chugs along hitting every clichéd plot twist going.
Cyrus plays the lead as a tough cookie teen, injecting a little artificial ditziness to her college-going alter ego. Outside of that and her more fashionable attire, though, there’s barely a difference between the two personas.
It’s hardly an acting stretch for the leading lady, who’s yet to really test herself since waving goodbye to her signature Hannah Montana role.
So Undercover also struggles by trying to serve Cyrus’s tween fans while attempting to be a bit edgy. The film’s perky, bubblegum tone gets an abrupt shake with few swear words, while a gag at the expense of the French – the only one in the film that’s vaguely amusing – will likely fly over the heads of the target audience.
That the movie is slated for a straight-to-DVD release in the US next year is probably indicative of its cinematic potential. It all feels a little bit sitcommy. From the by-the-numbers direction to the strained one-liners, everything about it feels small screen. The punky, rebellious streak Cyrus has shown by losing her locks is nowhere to be found in So Undercover, an unadventurous vehicle that’s in desperate need of some original wit and spark.
Director: Tom Vaughan; Screenwriters: Steven Pearl, Allan Loeb; Starring: Miley Cyrus, Jeremy Piven, Joshua Bowman, Eloise Mumford, Kelly Osbourne, Lauren McKnight; Running time: 94 mins; Certificate: 12A