A Cinderella Story

on July 16, 2004 by Sheri Linden
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This flat-footed retelling of the "Cinderella" fairytale places its timeless archetypes in the San Fernando Valley, to bland effect. As the mistreated orphan, tween fave Hilary Duff is adequate, while Jennifer Coolidge ("Best in Show") injects the proceedings with a bit of grotesque fun as a botox-dependent evil stepmother. The update presents such contemporary touches as the substitution of a cell phone for the glass slipper as though they were the height of cleverness. Generous filmgoers might agree, but the chief problem with "A Cinderella Story" is that it remains an ultra-ordinary romance filled with high-school-movie clich├ęs.

Duff plays Sam, a straight-A student who toils away in the diner that once belonged to her father. Providing solace from the cruelties of her hideous stepmother and stepsisters is the substitute family of diner employees, led by Rhonda (Regina King), a sharp-tongued fairy godmother of sorts. Another source of encouragement is Sam's best friend, an aspiring Method actor, played by Dan Byrd with a nice-guy appeal reminiscent of Topher Grace. When an anonymous text-messaging flirtation leads to a rendezvous at the homecoming dance, Sam discovers, from behind her mask, that the boy of her dreams is none other than Austin (Chad Michael Murray), the student body president and football captain (what else?). But this prince is really a sensitive guy, shallow and materialistic Heather-type girlfriend notwithstanding.

Leigh Dunlap's script abounds in one-liners of mild pedigree at best, and under the direction of Mark Rosman a timeless tale has been transformed into an enervated sitcom. With the exception of the welcome quirks of the performances by Coolidge and Byrd, the cast's work ranges from deadly earnest to painfully shrill. Even the story's supposed flights of fancy feel uninspired, and the mood cues of bad pop songs don't help this pumpkin get off the ground. Starring Hilary Duff, Jennifer Coolidge, Chad Michael Murray, Dan Byrd and Regina King. Directed by Mark Rosman. Written by Leigh Dunlap. Produced by Clifford Werber, Ilyssa Goodman, Hunt Lowry and Dylan Sellers. A Warner Bros. release. Romantic comedy. Rated PG for mild language and innuendo. Running time: 95 min

Tags: Cinderella, adaptation, fairy tale, teens, romance, Hilary Duff, Chad Michael Murray, Jennifer Coolidge, Dan Byrd, Regina King, Mark Rosman
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