Cinderella is a fairy tale with no fairies and not much of a tale. It’s cute — starring the poster girl of cuteness, Hilary Duff (The Lizzie McGuire Movie), and a new teen heartthrob (Chad Michael Murray, Freaky Friday). But cuteness can’t cure this film’s also being insipid, predictable, boring and not very funny. To its credit — as befits a movie that’s co-executive producer is also the star’s mother — Cinderella is squeaky-clean. No violence, no sex, no drugs, no swearing.
As to the story line: After her father’s death in an earthquake, Samantha “Sam” Montgomery has been treated terribly by her vain, self-obsessed stepmother, Fiona (Jennifer Coolidge, American Wedding), and her stupid twin stepsisters, Brianna (Madeline Zima, TV’s The Nanny) and Gabriella (Andrea Avery, A Soul to Take). At Dad’s famous friendly diner in the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angles, Sam scrubs and mops and slings hash every spare moment, while the other females in the family lounge around the pool. Nevertheless, Sam maintains an “A” average, so she can achieve her dream of going to Princeton. But with no time for friends or money for nice clothes, Sam is a social outcast, the object of ridicule by the brainless bimbos in the Valley Girl in-crowd.
Yet she has an intense e-mail relationship with a mystery boy from her school. Revealing their secret selves to one another as letter writers do, they’ve started to fall in love. Reluctantly — fearing rejection because she’s nothing more than who she is — Sam agrees to meet the boy at the Halloween Homecoming Dance.
The manager of the diner (Regina King, Daddy Day Care), a cool fairy godmother, steps in and provides Sam with the perfect Cinderella costume — the wedding dress she had packed away, and a beautiful mask. Sam’s platonic pal, Carter (Dan Byrd, TV’s Salem’s Lot), a Method-actor wannabe who’s dashing in his Zorro getup, drives them to the dance in his father’s Mercedes.
The mystery boy is none other than Austin Ames, hero of the football team and ex-boyfriend of the queen-bee bimbo. Austin is adorable in his Prince Charming outfit, but just as a kiss is about to occur, Sam’s cell phone beeps and off she flees to get back to the diner by midnight. Instead of leaving her slipper, she drops the cell phone.
Poor Prince Austin spends days looking for his masked beauty, putting up fliers all over school and fending off all the girls who claim to be the mystery Cinderella. There are adolescent misunderstandings, tissy fits, rebellions against parents and finally, well, you know.
The problem is that it’s all “so what?” The script, by a new-guy writer, is so paint-by-numbers, it seems it never went beyond a first draft. Cinderella is directed by another guy (Mark Rosman, mostly with TV credits), so the two chief decision-makers on this film are gender-predisposed not to delve into teenage-girl angst and give it any depth. (Forget Mom. Her job, it seems, was to make sure Hilary was in as many scenes as possible.)
If only Hillary can shake off the shallow men and her over-protective mom, she might grow up and make some artful career decisions for herself.
— reviewed by Marci Miller