Under the guise of a modern-day Cinderella tale we meet high school senior Sam Montgomery (Hilary Duff) a wallflower who is forced to wait hand and foot on her plastic surgery-obsessed stepmother Fiona (Jennifer Coolidge) and whining stepsisters (Madeline Zima Andrea Avery) as well as work her fingers to the bone at the diner once owned by her deceased father by now run by the evil Fiona. Why does Sam do all this? Because Fiona--or more precisely Fiona's money--is Sam's only way to get into Princeton her dream college. The girl does find some solace in a cyber romance with an anonymous guy from her school a person with whom Sam truly connects. When the fellow sets up a meeting at the Halloween dance she goes but once there masked and in a beautiful white gown Sam discovers her online soul mate is the popular high school quarterback Austin Ames (Chad Michael Murray). Oh no! How could she possibly attract the likes of Austin Ames whose girlfriend is head of the popular girl clique? Even though Austin doesn't find out Sam's true identity at the dance because she rushes off before he can take her mask off (yeah that's right; a mask stops him from recognizing her) he is obsessed on finding out who his mysterious Cinderella is. Can Sam tell him who she really is? Will he love her just the same? And will she get to Princeton? Oh who cares? I'm getting bored just writing this.
Duff certainly has a strong following. Now more than ever with her burgeoning music career on the rise the young actress/singer can command the attention of most 'tweeners and is a very likable screen teen even if she may be a little breathy and squeaky when delivering poignant monologues. Yet the fact her rival Lindsay Lohan (oh come on we know there's a feud going on there) has already scored a major coup with the much better Mean Girls Duff's appeal is dampened a bit especially when the Lizzie McGuire star tries to emulate the same material. Thankfully Cinderella Story has a truly worthy leading man in Murray the cutie from Freaky Friday (which starred Lohan natch) infusing Austin with more soulful and romantic notions than the average high school hunk. He'll definitely make the girls in the audiences swoon right along with Duff. In the supporting bits veteran comic actress Coolidge best known for her hilarious turns in Best in Show and Legally Blonde is adequate doing the evil stepmother thing but is much better as the neurotic liposuction-lovin' botox-injectin' freak. Regina King however who was so good in Jerry Maguire is just plain wasted as Sam's "fairy godmother " a no-nonsense waitress who tells the girl to go out live her dreams. Please.
Cinderella Story not only suffers from bad timing but also retread problems. Are there really that many variations of the classic fairy tale worth seeing? Unfortunately in this case no. Director Mark Rosman whose guided Duff in a few Lizzie McGuire episodes for the Disney Channel does what he can with his young cast crafting a terminally hip Cinderella story--but ultimately all the good intentions in the film fall flat. It just becomes so been-there done-that--from the mean popular girl getting her comeuppances to the geeky best friend/sidekick (played with relish we might add by Dan Byrd) getting the recognition he's always wanted to of course the sappy happily ever after. Gag. Without an original idea hackneyed script and stereotypical performances this means the burden of the film's success which faces formidable summertime fare rests almost completely on young Duff's shoulders just as the disastrous New York Minute (oh wait we forgot to add that mess of a teen movie to the list) did on the Olsen twins. It's time to give these poor girls--and this tired teen milieu--a break ya think?