The Lizzie McGuire Movie Movie Review

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In Disney Channel's big-screen spin-off "The Lizzie McGuire Movie," 'tweenybopper star Hilary Duff does little more than giggle (at cute boys) and gasp (at Roman tourist attractions) her way through a wholly contrived trip to Italy, where she just happens to meet a harmlessly sexy bubble-gum pop star, who just happens to have had a falling out with his singing partner/girlfriend, who just happens to look exactly like Lizzie.

Persuaded by Paulo (Yani Gellman) to pose as Isabella (also played by Duff in a black wig and an embarrassingly phony accent) during an upcoming awards show, Lizzie spends her whole class trip to Rome feigning illness (to fool the chaperone), sneaking off to rehearse with Paulo and clinging to him adorably as he shows her the picturesque sights from the back of a Vespa.

Populated by stock characters from the TV show (clueless parents, bratty little brother, catty in-crowd nemesis, sexless best guy-friend who secretly pines for Lizzie) and driven largely by invented circumstance (the film opens with Lizzie's junior high school "graduation"), there's precious little creative effort made here, save a few animated asides from Lizzie's cartoon-character conscience and the enjoyably acidic performance of stocky, plucky Alex Borstein ("Mad TV") as Miss Ungermeyer, the class chaperone and tour guide.

"Attention parents: Shut your pie holes!" are the first words out of her bullhorn mouth as Lizzie's class says their goodbyes at the airport before their trip. Forever suspicious of the kids in her charge, she's a formidable foil for Lizzie and anyone else who rubs her the wrong way ("You want a piece of the Ungermeyer?" she growls at Paulo's burly body guard). Borstein's cheekiness makes the best of this stereotype character, and the movie is the better for it.

But while "The Lizzie McGuire Movie" is sure to entertain fans of the show, it's generically weightless and adheres so strictly to "everygirl" teen-heroine formula that half the picture is indistinguishable from last month's "What a Girl Wants," starring Amanda Bynes, Nickelodeon's answer to Hilary Duff. Both feature pretty leads whose characters are made clumsy so they'll seem accessible and credible as in-crowd out-casts. Both feature sing-along scenes, clothing-try-on montages and pratfalls on high-fashion runways. Duff and Bynes both fall for smooth young boys who show them around European cities on scooters or motorcycles.

In both movies, parents take last-minute flights to catch up to their daughters. But at least in "What a Girl Wants," there was a good reason (the girl's coming-out party held by her long-lost blue-blood father). In this flick, Lizzie's conniving little brother simply tricks his folks by saying, "I miss my sister." To which his dad replies, "I'll get the passports."

The plot also ignores the fact that Paulo's attraction to Lizzie because she looks like his ex is a little creepy and degrading, and director Jim Fall (best known for 1999's gay romantic comedy "Trick") ignores the irony of having Duff blatantly lip-sync to her own voice during the movie's Britney-fantasy live-performance finale, when the whole Paulo-Isabella subplot revolved around a dispute over lip-syncing and pop credibility.

"The Lizzie McGuire Movie" isn't a terrible movie, and Hilary Duff is quite endearing. But wouldn't it be nice if the people making flicks for teens and 'tweens would hold themselves to a higher standard than just what will meet the low, inexperienced standards of 11- and 12-year-old girls?

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The Lizzie McGuire Movie Rating

" Grim "

Rating: PG, WIDE: Friday, May 2, 2003

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