Bippity, Boppity, [and especially] Boo
Once upon a time, there was a spry young film critic named Adam. Adam was in love with the cinema, dutifully attending weekend screenings of the latest new releases and filling the rest of his week with the wonders of movies. But one weekend, just a couple of days after seeing I, Robot, our hero reluctantly ventured out to the theatre to watch the modern-day fairy tale, A Cinderella Story.
Adam was a bit wary concerning how the new vehicle for rising teen star Hilary Duff would turn out, since the last time he saw a family-oriented comedy with fantasy elements, it was the irritating Ella Enchanted. With luck, our hero thought, A Cinderella Story won't turn out that bad. After all, Duff has a pleasant persona and could use her bubbly charm to save the film. Alas, as Adam soon found out, nothing could put A Cinderella Story back on course and stop it from becoming the simple-minded mess it turned out to be.
A Cinderella Story is, of course, a new take on the old-fashioned fairy tale. But instead of being set in a magic kingdom, our story takes place in the San FernandoValley of modern times. Our heroine is Sam (Duff), a young woman with a bright future ahead of her and a rotten present to endure. Ever since her father died, Sam's been stuck as a slave to her wicked stepmother Fiona (Jennifer Coolidge) and equally insidious stepsisters (Madeline Zima and Andrea Avery). Although working long shifts at her stepmother's diner and running all her errands, Sam has managed to maintain a good grade point average and fall in love with a secret admirer via the Internet. Little does she know her online beau is none other than Austin (Chad Michael Murray), the class football star -- an all-around popular dude, and, secretly, a budding writer. The two finally arrange a meeting at the Halloween Dance, Sam disguised as a stunning Cinderella and Austin as her Prince Charming. But to express her love face to face, Sam's going to need the help of her best friend (Dan Byrd) and her fairy godmother -- her boss (Regina King).
Adam wanted to like A Cinderella Story. He really did. But as he watched the film's images fail to generate any sort of spark within him, his mind drifted back to better cinematic incarnations of the "Cinderella" story, like Disney's classic animated film and Ever After, which remained magical even in a more "realistic" setting. Alas, our hero discovered that A Cinderella Story was anything but magical. It became an irritating and phony-feeling melodrama, turning a sweet premise sour in just 90 short minutes.
Duff is a cutie pie and tries her hardest, but Adam was disappointed with the corny lines and dumb story surrounding her. Murray provided a rather bland love interest, a nice guy but apparently not smart enough to recognize Hilary Duff's character underneath the tiny silver mask. Coolidge bypassed "deliciously over-the-top" and went straight for "grating and annoying" as Sam's plastic surgery-happy stepmother, and such fine character actors as Regina King and Paul Rodriguez were wasted in bit parts as Sam's best friends.
Still, in the end, A Cinderella Story is for the kids -- and, at age 19, Adam is no kid. He's just a young man with a great love for movies...unfortunately, this isn't one of them. As Adam exited the theatre, having just sat through a boring and grating cinematic endurance test, he dreamed of all the better movies out there right now. Spider-Man 2. Fahrenheit 9/11. Even Garfield! Memories of so many more entertaining films he's seen were enough to drown out the bad taste A Cinderella Story left with him. And Adam lived happily ever after.
MY RATING: * (out of ****)
(Released by Warner Bros. and rated "PG" for mild language and innuendo.)
Review also posted on www.ajhakari.com.