Hilary Duff may not be much of an actress or singer, but she can't be faulted for false advertising. Duff's The Lizzie McGuire Movie gave audiences just what its title promised: a feature-length adaptation of her popular television show. Similarly, Duff's Christmas album (Santa Claus Lane) never strays from the subject matter its title implies, though she did stop short of naming her first non-Yuletide disc Calculated Pop Songs Heavily Produced To Compensate For A Weak Singing Voice. But Duff veers back into the realm of obvious monikers with her rancid new film vehicle, A Cinderella Story.
The title betrays a dearth of originality: The filmmakers couldn't think of an engaging twist on the fairy tale, so they do away with all that magic and wonder and throw in details like a dropped cell phone and a Prince Charming who's totally into e-mail and text messaging. Duff here plays the put-upon stepdaughter of Jennifer Coolidge, a nouveau riche monster with two pampered, hysterical daughters and a simmering grudge against Duff, who dreams of attending Princeton and hooking up with the Tennyson-quoting slab of beefcake (Chad Michael Murray) she met in a chat room.
Duff gets her chance when she ignores her stepmother's instructions, goes to a Halloween homecoming dance, and meets Murray, who is immediately smitten. Alas, she's forced to flee before they can swap numbers, and Murray is left with only her dropped cell phone as a clue. Of course, one e-mail could clear everything up and send the Princeton-loving duo on their way to romantic bliss, but A Cinderella Story's punishing 96-minute length demands complications.
Padding a sketchy romance with a mean-spirited would-be satire of high-school social mores, A Cinderella Story banks far too heavily on its audience's affection for Duff, who's dreadful in a terrible role. Fans might be willing to overlook the film's creaky foundation, but those not enraptured with its star before the first frame will likely check their watches regularly, eagerly anticipating the end of both A Cinderella Story and Duff's multimedia ubiquity.