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A Cinderella Story

Adding to the glut of recent teen girl fare such as Mean Girls and Sleepover, now there's A Cinderella Story--another film about a high school nobody who beats out the mean, popular chick to snag the hunky guy. Even if this one stars Hilary Duff, honestly, these movies are all starting to blend together--and not in a good way.


Under the guise of a modern-day Cinderella tale, we meet high school senior Sam Montgomery (Hilary Duff), a wallflower who is forced to wait hand and foot on her plastic surgery-obsessed stepmother Fiona (Jennifer Coolidge) and whining stepsisters (Madeline Zima, Andrea Avery), as well as work her fingers to the bone at the diner once owned by her deceased father by now run by the evil Fiona. Why does Sam do all this? Because Fiona--or more precisely, Fiona's money--is Sam's only way to get into Princeton, her dream college. The girl does find some solace in a cyber romance with an anonymous guy from her school, a person with whom Sam truly connects. When the fellow sets up a meeting at the Halloween dance, she goes, but once there, masked and in a beautiful white gown, Sam discovers her online soul mate is the popular high school quarterback Austin Ames (Chad Michael Murray). Oh no! How could she possibly attract the likes of Austin Ames, whose girlfriend is head of the popular girl clique? Even though Austin doesn't find out Sam's true identity at the dance because she rushes off before he can take her mask off (yeah, that's right; a mask stops him from recognizing her), he is obsessed on finding out who his mysterious Cinderella is. Can Sam tell him who she really is? Will he love her just the same? And will she get to Princeton? Oh, who cares? I'm getting bored just writing this.


Duff certainly has a strong following. Now, more than ever, with her burgeoning music career on the rise, the young actress/singer can command the attention of most 'tweeners and is a very likable screen teen, even if she may be a little breathy and squeaky when delivering poignant monologues. Yet, the fact her rival Lindsay Lohan (oh come on, we know there's a feud going on there) has already scored a major coup with the much better Mean Girls, Duff's appeal is dampened a bit, especially when the Lizzie McGuire star tries to emulate the same material. Thankfully, Cinderella Story has a truly worthy leading man in Murray, the cutie from Freaky Friday (which starred Lohan, natch), infusing Austin with more soulful and romantic notions than the average high school hunk. He'll definitely make the girls in the audiences swoon, right along with Duff. In the supporting bits, veteran comic actress Coolidge, best known for her hilarious turns in Best in Show and Legally Blonde, is adequate doing the evil stepmother thing but is much better as the neurotic, liposuction-lovin', botox-injectin' freak. Regina King, however, who was so good in Jerry Maguire, is just plain wasted as Sam's ''fairy godmother,'' a no-nonsense waitress who tells the girl to go out live her dreams. Please.


Cinderella Story not only suffers from bad timing but also retread problems. Are there really that many variations of the classic fairy tale worth seeing? Unfortunately, in this case, no. Director Mark Rosman, whose guided Duff in a few Lizzie McGuire episodes for the Disney Channel, does what he can with his young cast, crafting a terminally hip Cinderella story--but ultimately all the good intentions in the film fall flat. It just becomes so been-there, done-that--from the mean popular girl getting her comeuppances to the geeky best friend/sidekick (played with relish, we might add, by Dan Byrd) getting the recognition he's always wanted to, of course, the sappy happily ever after. Gag. Without an original idea, hackneyed script and stereotypical performances, this means the burden of the film's success, which faces formidable summertime fare, rests almost completely on young Duff's shoulders, just as the disastrous New York Minute (oh wait, we forgot to add that mess of a teen movie to the list) did on the Olsen twins. It's time to give these poor girls--and this tired teen milieu--a break, ya think?

Bottom Line

A Cinderella Story will most likely appeal to adolescent girls who either want to be Hilary Duff or want to slobber over Chad Michael Murray, but the story doesn't offer anything new to an already beaten-to-death teen genre. Just tell those Hollywood execs to stop it already.