Film

Undiscovered (2005)

Cynthia Fuchs

A non-meeting on a subway platform serves as the first scene in the exceptionally uninteresting Undiscovered.


Undiscovered

Director: Meiert Avis
Cast: Pell James, Steven Strait, Kip Pardue, Carrie Fisher, Fisher Stevens, Shannyn Sossamon, Ashlee Simpson
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: Lions Gate
First date: 2005
US Release Date: 2005-08-26

Young, pretty, and pony-tailed, Luke Falcon (Steven Strait) wants to be a rock star. Or no: he wants to perform his own songs. Or no again: he wants to stick to his own (unclear) standards, singing in small clubs, uncompromised and unsigned. Maybe he just wants to write songs. Ah heck: maybe he wants to meet the beautiful girl he sees on a subway in New York on the very night he's leaving for L.A.

This last part serves as the first scene in the exceptionally uninteresting Undiscovered. As Luke, Strait (who played the sulky firestarter in Sky High and fronts a band called Tribe in real life) does his best to seem serious about his art, but he has his work cut out for him. He first spots the girl of his dreams, a New York model ignominiously named Brier (Pell James). She's hopping on the train, he's getting off: they exchange glances, she notes he's dropped a glove (it's wintertime), and instead of taking it from her as the doors close, he tosses the other one inside, oh so fatefully. They smile at one another, nameless and "smitten," his word, uttered within seconds to his brother, Euan (Kip Pardue, who should be starring in his own movie by now, so consistent in sparking the small parts he's been playing in indie movies that he's deserving a good chunk of a role, in a far better movie than this one).

While Luke pours out his heart to Euan, Brier makes a quick phone call to her agent, Carrie (Carrie Fisher): "The hottest guy just did the coolest thing," she gushes. At which point the briefly sensible Carrie pronounces that it's a good thing she doesn't know his name and will never see him again. If only it were so. Instead, Meiert Avis' movie leaps headlong into a pile of romantic melodrama clichés: a montage sequence shows Luke playing coffeehouses for tips in L.A. and Brier being a model everywhere else; she appears slightly sad, and the usually ignored girlfriend of a groupie-loving, Britty sort of rock star named Mick (Stephen Moyer). You know Luke's all right, though, because his closest relationship is with a bulldog who rides a skateboard: the trick is exceedingly cute, or, as Euan phrases it, the "greatest chick magnet ever."

Soon Brier decides to move to L.A., just by chance, of course, She signs up for an acting class, where the first student you see is Clea (Ashlee Simpson, whose father executive-produced the film). She defends Brier against a mean fellow student who calls her out as yet another model-wannabe-actor wandering through in L.A. (little does the mean student know that Brier is another kind of cliché, a rock star's woebegone girlfriend looking to start anew). It so happens that Clea is best friends with Luke -- maybe not dating because she's gay, though this reason isn't exactly announced -- and takes Brier to see him sing one night. Clea sings too, in that head-cocking, shirt-tugging way Simpson has devised to seem authentic and punky, and Luke acts like he's really glad to have her help with a droopy song.

So far, so formulaic. While the camera cannot stay still (maybe recalling Avis' music video roots, maybe just affecting "art"), the plot can't get going. The romance pokes along by way of deception, selfishness, revenge, and disappointment. Brier and Clea, with the help of Carrie and a faux-Brazilian model named Josie (Shannyn Sossamon), connive to make Luke famous. The plan is pretty feeble: the only agent who pays attention is the fundamentally icky Garret Schweck (Fisher Stevens), attended everywhere he goes by obedient assistant Brendan (Ewan Chung). Supposedly, Josie is famous enough (and Brier is not?) that having her hang on Luke's arm and throw herself at the stage during club dates makes him seem "hot" (that said, Euan calls her "Darth Vader in drag," as she's pretty disturbing, even for a paid groupie). Carrie also plants a few items on in the papers and he's a star. At least according to the dialogue: Brier and Clea discuss the so-many unseen blogs and websites dedicated to their object of affection (perhaps such digital "effects" were too expensive to shoot).

Luke falls into the rock star mode pretty easily for someone who's supposed to be all into his independence and integrity. (Then again, he's hardly "about" the music; his mostly black band is reduced to background, one member speaking once: "One, two, three.") Brier despises the effects of celebrity, so her decision to send her supposedly true love forth on this path seems odd; as she watches him turn famous, she's partly drawn to him and partly repulsed. He's her very own Frankenstein monster, drinking, sweating, having sex with Josie, but only because he feels rejected by Brier. In turn, she blames him for being weak, expressing her consternation to Clea during a session in a rentable batting cage (not a terrible characterization device, but it has so little to do with anything else she does that you're left wondering about the source of this potentially cool pastime; Clea, by the way, is plainly not a batter).

At this point, the long forgotten Mick's reappearance out of nowhere only suggests that John Galt has run out of ways to make Brier feel bad. Or maybe you're supposed to figure out that Brier's unconscionable behavior -- setting up Luke to be a typical rock star, then resenting him for acting like a typical rock star -- stems from her anger at Mick. Or not.

All their betrayal and miscommunication lead nowhere original, with one loopy addition, namely, the appearance of Peter Weller as a legendary label owner named (I can't even stand it) Wick Treadway. He rolls in wearing sunglasses and a Hawaiian-ish shirt, offering advice and salvaging the situation for these crazy kids. If only he'd been around for the first three quarters of the movie.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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