Studio: Warner Brothers
MPAA Rating: PG for mild language and innuendo.
Mom Rating: 2 out of 5
Kid Rating: 3 out of 5
Cast: Hilary Duff, Jennifer Coolidge, Chad Michael Murray, Dan Byrd, Regina King, Julie Gonzalo
Writer: Leigh Dunlap
Director: Mark Rosman
The story of "Cinderella" is one of the world's most enduring legends, and has served as the inspiration for countless films. The poor little stepdaughter who is elevated to the rank of princess is such a part of our collective psyche that there are elements of her in such disparate fare as "My Fair Lady" and "Pretty Woman."
This time-tested tale is nearly fail-safe; it's hard for anyone to ruin it. The downside is that it's just as difficult to transcend the predictability of the plot and offer anything new to the audience. Writer Leigh Dunlap and director Mark Rosman try, but while "A Cinderella Story" works as light entertainment for tween-age girls, there is little that's special about it.
The producers of this latest tween offering didn't pull any punches. There's no mistaking the source material when it's in the title, begins with a shot of a castle and really does feature a wicked stepmother.
This Cinderella story centers on a girl named Sam, who lives in the San Fernando Valley suburbs of Los Angeles. When we first see her, she's a youngster who plays baseball with her very cool single dad. Her idyllic life is changed when Dad decides to marry Fiona (Jennifer Coolidge), who also has two similarly-aged daughters. Shortly after that, Dad is tragically killed -- leaving his entire estate to his new wife.
Fast-forward to the present. Now 17-year-old Sam is played by Hilary Duff, and no one seems to notice that she's drop-dead gorgeous. She still plays baseball... between waiting on Fiona and her daughters, working in the diner her stepmother inherited from her dad, getting A's in honor classes, putting up with the mean girls at school (a teenage cliche that has mushroomed in movies this year)... and exchanging text messages and emails with a young man whose identity she does not know. What they have in common is a dream of attending Princeton (because Sam's dad told her that's where princesses go to college). They agree to meet at the homecoming dance... which (surprise!) is a Halloween -themed costume ball. The audience already knows that the young prince... er, man... is Austin Ames (Chad Michael Murray), the very handsome and popular student body president and captain of the football team.
In transferring Cindy's story to a modern suburban high school, Dunlap has made some clever adjustments. Some of these work; others do not. The saving grace of this film is its likable cast: Coolidge is a wonderful comic actress and shines as the Botox-addicted stepmom, Regina King delivers another fine performance as the diner manager/fairy godmother who does her best to protect Sam. Duff and Murray are the stuff of pre-adolescent fantasies -- they are too cute for words but fine in their roles here.
Even if I didn't see any magic here, my 8-year-old daughter -- who fits the studio marketers' profile -- was entranced. The best I can say for myself is that I wasn't bored. You could do worse this summer (see last week's review of "Sleepover!") But if you really want to see a modern fairy tale, your time will be better spent with a second screening of "Shrek 2." Now *that* one has movie magic.
Donna Schwartz Mills took film classes in college and spent 13 years working in the entertainment industry before "retiring" to marry a "non-pro" (Variety's term for anyone in any other business), and become a mom. Today she writes reviews of family films at her website, http://www.Family-Content.com , your source of family friendly content solutions for websites and ezines.