A Cinderella Story

                 I'm probably one of the few people on the planet who has never seen Hilary Duff
         in one of her movie or television roles. The fact that I'm certainly not in her target
         audience is probably a very big factor, as I know she's popular with girls from age six or
         seven up. So watching her in the lead role in this modern-day spin on the fairy tale was
         an "interesting" experience at best.

                 Movie makers seem to be entranced with turning the
CINDERELLA story into
         movie and TV programs. I suppose one could write a dissertation on why that is so.
         A few years ago we had
EVER AFTER starring Drew Barrymore and earlier this year
         there was
ELLA ENCHANTED, an irreverent spin on the story. This version is fairly
         explicit right from the start that it intends to "borrow" liberally from the fairy tale,
         beginning with the usual voice-over narration of "Once upon a time ..."

                 The audience is first introduced to ten-year old Southern Californian Samantha
         'Sam' Montgomery (played by Hannah Robinson), a tomboy being raised by her
         caring dad (Whip Hubley). Dad owns and operates a diner staffed with assorted
         eccentrics (the main ones played by Paul Rodriguez, Regina King and Mary Pat
         Gleason). He also has his little girl practicing her baseball swing and reads her fairy
         tales at bedtime. In short, their lives are hunky dory. Through an accident of fate,
         Dad meets Fiona (Jennifer Coolidge), who has two daughters of her own, and
         before you can say "
The Brady Bunch," they become a blended family. When a
         real accident -- an earthquake -- cause the death of Sam's father, everyone's
         lives change, not always for the better.

                 Flash forward eight years and Sam (now played by Hilary Duff) divides her time
         between working at the diner, waiting hand and foot on the demanding Fiona,
         studying to get grades so she can attend Princeton, and carrying on a cyber
         relationship with a guy who not only happens to attend the same high school
         but has the soul of a poet. In typically Hollywood fashion, he's really Austin Ames
         (Chad Michael Murray), the captain of the football team and Alpha male who dates
         the head cheerleader (Julie Gonzalo). Of course, Sam, despite her good looks,
         is looked down on and labeled "Diner Girl" by the in-crowd. Her seemingly one friend
         in the school is a wannabe Method actor (Dan Byrd) who each day dresses the role
         he intends to play.

                 Following the outline of the fairy tale, Sam agrees to meet her cyber pal at the
         annual Halloween dance. Fate intervenes in the form of her stepmother Fiona
         who decrees that Sam must work at the diner that night. Instead of the intervention
         of magic, screenwriter Leigh Dunlap takes a page from
EVER AFTER by having
         an unconventional "fairy godmother." Here Regina King as one of the diner's workers
         helps get her coworker ready for the big dance. Arriving in a spectacular white ball
         gown and wearing a mask, Sam is not recognized by the "cool" set, meets her
         "prince" and utterly charms him. Just as he's about to find out her real identity, her
         cell phone alarm beeps and off she runs to return to the diner. In her haste, she
         drops said cell phone (in lieu of leaving a glass slipper) and the rest of the film
         marks time until the inevitable happy ending.

                 Dunlap's script is a paint-by-numbers version of the story that doesn't even
         bother to find any bearing in reality. The lost cell phone doesn't really play into
         the story, despite the fact that it is one of the major ways that Fiona communicates
         with Sam. One would think that more would be made of the lost item. But as it is
         only a plot device, it gets buried. Director Mark Rosman who previously handled
         chores on episodes of Ms. Duff's TV series "
Lizzie Maguire" hasn't seemed to get
         out of the small screen mind set. The whole proceeding feels like a very special
         episode (albeit a long one) of some television show.

                 The acting veers wildly from embarrassing (Ms. Coolidge, of whom a little goes a
         very long way) to adequate (Ms. Duff and Mr. Murray) to pretty good (Ms. King and
         Mr. Byrd).  Whatever critics have to say about
         won't matter as the built-in audience of young girls will probably enjoy the movie.
         Grown-ups would do best to park the kids in the theater and then head for something
         more substantial at the cineplex.

                              Rating:                              C -
                              MPAA Rating:                  PG for mild language and innuendo
                              Running time:                   97 mins.

                                                      Viewed at the AMC EMPIRE 25.

                                                              © 2008 by C.E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.