Not quite a fairy tale, but not all that bad either

A Cinderella Story is nothing short of an hour and a half of commercial-free Nickelodeon programming with a Disney feel, even though Warner Brothers made it. This film is exactly what audiences would expect from Hilary Duff, but it doesn’t mean there aren’t some redeeming qualities.

An updated retelling of Cinderella, A Cinderella Story follows Sam (Duff) after she loses her father and is left to her wicked stepmother, Fiona, played by Jennifer Coolidge. Sam slaves away in the stepmother’s diner, does her bidding and puts up with her evil daughters so that she may have a chance to go to Princeton.

Life takes an unexpected turn for Sam, however, when she meets a guy in a Princeton chat room who goes to her school. Neither of them reveal their identities, and a cyber romance blooms. It all culminates in the Halloween masquerade ball, where Sam meets her prince charming but still does not let him know who she is.

Afraid she will be rejected, Sam does not tell her prince charming, Austin, captain of the football team and closet poet, that she is Cinderella, even though he tries frantically to find out who she is. To make a long story short, Sam’s evil sisters wind up revealing the secret in an embarrassing manner and she is devastated, but Sam and Austin fall in love, anyway.

No plot twists, no deep, thought-provoking scenes or dialogue; just a straight-up feel-good movie that pushes good morals. Although most of the moral implications and plot lines are contrived and cheesy, the film does offer some genuinely comical writing.

The best, and most surprising, part was the acting. No one in this movie, including Duff, was an acting disappointment. Yes, some of the scenes were hard to watch, but that was because of the sappy writing, not the acting.

Now 17 and with several film and television credits under her name, Duff is developing as an actress, making a transition from Agent Cody Banks to films such as Cheaper By the Dozen, where she worked with Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt. She makes her roles believable and, unlike other teen stars, seems to be destined for more adult roles.

As for her co-stars in this film, they did not drop the acting ball, either. Coolidge, although typecast, always puts on a stellar performance. Chad Michael Murray, who played prince charming, and Dan Byrd, who played Sam’s best friend, also performed beyond their years.

Not really for the college crowd, this movie would be better suited for younger viewers — but don’t hesitate to take a younger brother or sister to this movie. It really isn’t all that bad. It may be exactly the type of cheesy you expect, but at least you can say, “I saw Hilary Duff in A Cinderella Story,” when she is still the lead role 20 years down the road.

Rating: C+
PG, 95 min.