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Cinderella Story (rated PG for mild language and innuendo) offers little that will appeal to its target demographic (primarily 10- to 13-year-old girls), and almost nothing to anyone else. It's a cliched, mostly lifeless trifle, most praiseworthy for what it's not - in that it's not particularly profane, crude, or offensive, as children's movies go.
Teen star Hilary Duff (formerly of the Disney Channel's Lizzie McGuire) takes on the role of a modern day Cinderella, in - where else? - the San Fernando Valley. This fairy-tale update takes a form similar to many Shakespearian modernizations, with bits and pieces of the original showing up in contemporary dress. Sam (Ms. Duff), for instance, doesn't leave behind a glass slipper at the fateful ball (here a high-school Halloween dance), but instead drops her cell phone during her hasty pre-midnight exit.
Sam is the downtrodden slave of a self-absorbed stepmother and twin step-sisters. Her father died in an earthquake, leaving everything (including his beloved diner) to Sam's stepmother. Sam is relegated to an attic room and works so many hours at her family's eatery that she's known at school (at least among the cool kids) only as "diner girl."
Sam's "prince" is, naturally, the most popular guy in school. Austin (Chad Michael Murray) is captain of the football team, student-body president, etc. - but also has secret longings to attend Princeton and become a writer. Will his secret e-mail relationship with Sam blossom into something more?
Cinderella Story is chock-full of groan-inducing moments that even - or perhaps especially - preteen girls will see through. Its message is mixed at best, occasionally extolling positive virtues, but mostly applying a morality that is convenient for the story and its heroine, ending the fantasy on the particularly sour note of payback.