A Cinderella Story

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Starring Hilary Duff and Chad Michael Murray. Rated general.

It's a tad ironic that director Mark Rosman began his film career writing, directing, and producing The House on Sorority Row, a slasher flick that became one of the highest-grossing independent films of 1983. His latest, the Hilary Duff vehicle A Cinderella Story, is pretty scary too. I was tempted to close my eyes several times--and also to make loud gagging noises. But the presence of my Duff-loving six-year-old, Tess, made sure I put on a brave face.

The movie stars the 16-year-old as wholesome, straight-As California teenager Sam, whose life goes from blissful to miserable after her beloved father dies in an earthquake. She becomes a virtual slave to her wicked, Botox-bloated stepmother (an over-the-top Jennifer Coolidge), who just wants her to toil away at the family's restaurant instead of going to Princeton University. A couple of cruel stepsisters are thrown in to push the Cinderella angle, but their asinine antics merely highlight first-time screenwriter Leigh Dunlap's stunning lack of talent and imagination.

The prince in this hackneyed fable is Austin (Chad Michael Murray), the awesomely cute and incredibly popular high-school quarterback who just happens to have the sensitive soul of a poet. When his fingertips aren't unleashing touchdown passes, they're pecking out romantic e-mails to his anonymous Internet soulmate. (That'd be the adorable Sam.) The two finally meet at a high-school Halloween dance, but before her true identity is revealed she has to leave in a mad dash and...well, you know the drill. Suffice it to say that much mindless Hollywood schlock ensues before the downtrodden Sam, inspired by one of her dead dad's favourite sayings, gets the happy-ever-after back on track.

So, what did Tessie think of the movie? She wasn't nearly as nauseated as I. "I liked when they kissed," she said as we left the theatre, "and that song when they were driving in the car." And how did it stack up against that video she watched the night before, Air Bud: World Pup, about soccer-playing dogs? "That's hard," she replied, "because they were both pretty good."