A Cinderella Story

People who wear glass slippers shouldn’t go around kicking the crap out of fairytales. Take “A Cinderella Story.” No, please, take it. Take it far, far away, to a magical land where filmmakers believe fourteen year old girls are still looking for Prince Charming and Happily Ever After. Innocuous to the point of becoming irritating, “A Cinderella Story” updates the classic fairytale to present day San Fernando Valley, and the only happy ending is when the final credits roll across the screen.

A Cinderella Story. Cinderella Story gets a busy signalHillary Duff, with her Colgate smile and baby doe eyes, is way too pretty to be playing Sam Montgomery, a Valley Girl with a bad home life. Ever since her father died in an Earthquake, Sam has become the whipping post of mean stepmother Fiona (Jennifer Coolidge) and insipid stepsisters Brianna (Madeline Zima) and Gabriella (Andrea Avery). When she’s not scrubbing floors at her father’s diner, Sam is dodging the venomous Shelby (Julie Gonzalo) at school.

Sam has a crush on Shelby’s boy band beautiful quarterback boyfriend Austin (Chad Michael Murray), but he doesn’t even know Sam exists. As the big school costume ball approaches, Sam resigns herself to work, but is magically transformed and whisked away by an unexpected fairy godmother (Regina King, always a delight). Of course Sam charms the pants off Prince Charming, who is so smitten (or stupid) he doesn’t recognize Sam behind her small mask. Perhaps too many uncompleted passes.

The thing about ships in the night is that they eventually pass. With only her cell phone to go on, Austin begins to search the kingdom for his high-tech princess. That means every having to wade through every girl with more than two Britney Spears CDs in their collection, allowing the filmmakers to create a meandering collage of stereotypes.

I like Hillary Duff, and she’s the best thing about “A Cinderella Story.” There’s scarcely any meat on the script, yet Duff still manages to make a decent meal out of it. Don’t book Inside the Actor’s Studio just yet. It’s easy for Duff to gain our sympathy when all of the villains are larger than a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon.

The usually reliable Jennifer Coolidge (American Pie, Legally Blonde) is laughably bad as the evil stepmother, chewing scenery as she moves from room to room. The high school kids are cookie cutter clones, barely distinguishable until they have something important to say. Don’t hold your breath.

Hillary Duff, Jennifer Coolidge, Chad Michael Murray, Dan Byrd, Regina King, Julie Gonzalo, Madeline Zima. Directed by Mark Rosman. Rated PG. 96 Minutes.

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