[Screen It]

(2003) (Hilary Duff, Adam Lamberg) (PG)

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Drama: After graduating from middle school, a teen, her best friend and their classmates head off to Rome on a school trip where she falls under the spell of a 17-year-old pop singer who wants her to stand in for the other half of his musical act.
Lizzie McGuire (HILARY DUFF) is a typical teenager who's just graduated from middle school, but not without accidentally embarrassing herself in front of everyone. Accordingly, she's happy to be heading off to Rome for a two-week school trip with her best friend, David "Gordo" Gordon (ADAM LAMBERG).

They and a handful of classmates, including Ethan Craft (CLAYTON SNYDER) and Kate Sanders (ASHLIE BRILLAULT), will be under the supervision of high school principal Miss Ungermeyer (ALEX BORSTEIN) who's acting as their chaperone, but are hoping for some sort of great adventure.

They get that when Italian pop star Paolo (YANI GELLMAN) realizes that Lizzie is a near identical twin to his musical partner, Isabella (HILARY DUFF), whom he reports has flown the coup. Stating that they'll be sued if the duo doesn't show at a video awards ceremony, Paolo convinces Lizzie to act like Isabella and appear with him.

With bodyguard Sergei (BRENDAN KELLY) in tow, the two rehearse their act, which suddenly involves Lizzie having to sing on stage, much to her horror. At the same time, Lizzie's mischievous brother, Matt (JAKE THOMAS), convinces their parents, Sam (ROBERT CARRADINE) and Jo (HALLIE TODD), to fly to Rome. While they're on their way, Lizzie, Gordo and others try to keep her extracurricular activities secret from Ungermeyer as the big singing event nears.

OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
Things are known to be bullet-proof, burglar-proof and heck, even idiot-proof. In the world of entertainment, the related adjective is "critic-proof." Basically, that means that no matter what the critics might say, a CD, TV show or movie will be popular among its target audience simply because such customers love the talent and/or product near unconditionally.

That's particularly true of the "tween" set that is voracious for offerings aimed at them. Case in point is the wildly popular TV show "Lizzie McGuire" that's aired on the Disney Channel for several years and is reportedly number one across the board in the ratings for its desired demographic.

Sensing a potential goldmine in ticket sales, later video rentals and purchases, and the hopes for many sequels, the powers that be have given the title character her own movie. The imaginatively titled "The Lizzie McGuire" movie reunites most of the cast with a new director -- Jim Fall ("Trick") - and an expanded 90 some minute format to tell its tale.

Much like the old two-part special episodes of "The Brady Bunch" and other such shows that occasionally went on location, this one transports its cast and story to Rome. Yet, the film is less a movie than an extended vacation episode of the sitcom, and it's a mediocre one at that.

As a near 40-year-old male, I realize this film wasn't made for me, as I'm getting close to being the polar opposite of the fan demographic. I also know that those who love the show will quite likely feel the same way about this offering (especially based on their reaction at our screening).

Even so, this is about as skimpy and lackluster an offering as you can imagine. The modified mistaken identity plot courtesy of screenwriters Susan Estelle Jansen (making her film debut) and Ed Decter & John J. Strauss ("The Santa Clause 2," "There's Something About Mary") strains to fill the runtime. That means that Fall must resort to not one, not two but at least 8 musical montages to fill in the blanks.

Among them is the obligatory trying on clothes sequence. It and most of the rest of its musical brethren aren't particularly noteworthy outside of allowing for various unremarkable remakes of period songs such as "The Tide is High," "Volare" and "Shining Star" to play on the soundtrack.

Speaking of which, star Hilary Duff ("Agent Cody Banks") reprises her TV part and gets to do some singing of her own, including a concert rendition of what is or likely will be another pop hit, "Why Not." Unfortunately, that's about the only lively part of the film. Otherwise, Duff strains a bit too much to be the somewhat clumsy but otherwise normal teen.

That is, when she's not doing the Elizabeth Montgomery on "Bewitched" thing playing blond and black-haired look-alikes. The filmmakers have also retained the brief animated interludes where a cartoon version of McGuire acts out the real one's otherwise unspoken thoughts, reactions and mindset. That might appease and/or entertain core fans, like the rest of the film, but probably few others.

Most of the TV cast members reprise their roles, with Adam Lamberg (TV's "The Day Lincoln Was Shot") being decent but otherwise unremarkable playing her best friend who's obviously attracted to her romantically. At least he fares better than Yani Gellman ("Urban Legends II: Final Cut," "Jason X") as her Italian suitor, Ashlie Brillault (making her feature debut), as her hometown foil, or Robert Carradine ("Max Keeble's Big Move," the "Revenge of the Nerds" films), Hallie Todd (TV's "Life with Roger" and "Murder She Wrote") and Jake Thomas ("A.I.," "The Cell") as members of her family.

Beyond the sketchily written plot and characters, one of the film's bigger problems is that everything's played at or over the top, thus turning what might have been cut or funny into straight-forward annoyance. That's true of the principal/chaperone character played by Alex Borstein ("Showtime," TV's "MAD TV") who quickly wears out her welcome long before the film mercifully draws to a close.

Having never seen the TV show, I can't compare it with this film. That said, I'm guessing it's safe to predict that they're similar (beyond the length and setting) and that fans of the show will probably equally love it, so I suppose that earns it a few points for entertaining its target audience (and barely containing anything truly objectionable from the content side). That said, "The Lizzie McGuire Movie" isn't really a very good movie from an artistic sense and thus rates as a 3.5 out of 10.

Reviewed April 28, 2003 / Posted May 2, 2003

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