Hollywood has another stab at merging the fairytale with the teen-movie in this routine offering starring teenager Hilary Duff as Sam, a modern-day Cinders. Bereaved of her father, cash-strapped Sam works in the diner of her vain stepmom while her not-so-ugly stepsisters are lavished with expensive gifts. Sam’s only comforts are the prospect of college and a date with her mystery cyberpal. The latter comes at a costume ball, at which Prince Charming is revealed to be popular schoolmate Austin (Chad Michael Murray), a handsome but none-too-bright lad, if his failure to recognise Sam in a dress and an eye mask is anything to go by. Nor does he think to use the mobile phone she drops, fleeing at midnight, to identify her. While he’s scratching his head trying to work out what happened, Sam is keeping her head down, worrying that he won’t accept the class divide between them, while anyone above the age of 12 is wondering where the comedy in romantic comedy went.
For despite drawing a few easy laughs from Jennifer Coolidge’s pink and pampered stepmother, this fails to use the comic potential inherent in a storyline that has kept panto audiences in stitches for decades. The ugly sisters are stupid and vain in the least amusing way imaginable, and Duff’s underdog character could use some sharper put-downs. Nevertheless, her scrubbed-up everygirl Sam is a likeable presence, and the machinations of her makeover are slick enough to please MTV-weaned tots dreaming of a Prince Charming straight out of ‘Dawson’s Creek’. The rest of us, however, might wish he’d stayed there.