I’ve never seen the Disney Channel sitcom “Hannah Montana,” of course, so I approach “Hannah Montana: The Movie” blind. Is this it? Is THIS what has been enthralling the tween girls lately? A show about a girl who gets into wacky situations and then screws everything up by being an idiot? In the spirit of Passover, why is this sitcom different from all other sitcoms?
If the TV show is even half as brainless as the movie, then the TV show is very brainless indeed. Or perhaps it plays out better on the small screen, in 22-minute doses. As a movie, it’s an annoyance, made more aggravating by the fact that the people who wrote and directed it obviously weren’t even trying to be original or smart. You grant a little leeway, plot-wise, for a movie aimed at kids, but come on. Plenty of kids’ movies are clever and make sense. This one isn’t and doesn’t.
The premise, as I understand it, goes like this. Miley Cyrus plays Miley Stewart, an ordinary teenage girl who has a secret life as world-famous pop star Hannah Montana. Miley doesn’t tell anyone that she’s Hannah so that she may live an ordinary existence free from the hassles of fame. In other words, she wants to have her cake and eat it, to enjoy the benefits of celebrity but none of the headaches.
I’m not as interested in why she keeps her identity a secret as I am in HOW she does it. The only difference between Miley and Hannah is that Hannah wears a blond wig. Otherwise, Miley and Hannah have the same husky baritone, hillbilly-flavored speaking voice, the same non-descript “American Idol” singing voice, the same buggy eyes, snaggled teeth, and camel-like muzzle. How does anyone who sees them both not realize they are the same person? Especially when Hannah’s hotshot publicist, Vita (Vanessa Williams), is pulling Miley out of school for Hannah-related emergencies.
And where do Hannah’s fans think she goes all day? Don’t they wonder why she has no backstory, no family, no Wikipedia entry detailing her early life and rise to stardom? Don’t they find it odd that Hannah apparently only exists when she’s onstage or making an official public appearance?
But, OK, fine. I can accept that “Hannah Montana” is set in a universe parallel to ours in which all it takes to baffle a human being’s powers of recognition is a wig. I can also accept that Hannah’s fans are idiots. (The fact that so many of them are teenage boys is hard to get past, though.) The only people who know Miley’s secret are her best friend, Lilly (Emily Osment), her dad (real-life father Billy Ray Cyrus), and older brother, Jackson (Jason Earles). Sometimes Lilly acts as Hannah’s body double when Miley and Hannah must be in the same place at once and when nobody’s going to be looking very closely, although why that should matter, I don’t know. Obviously no one in this parallel universe ever looks at anything closely.
In the film, Miley’s double life has begun to take its toll, pulling her away from her humble roots. Apparently, being the world’s most popular musical star is time-consuming! Huh! She ruins Lilly’s massive beachside Sweet Sixteen party by showing up as Hannah rather than Miley, drawing all the attention away from the birthday girl, which is very bad manners. Then, to make matters worse, she gets on the stage that for some reason is already set up, with the backup band and dancers that are for some reason already there, and performs a song. She has to! The fans demand it!
To teach Miley What’s Really Important, her dad drags her back to Crowley Corners, Tenn., the backwater town where she was born, and where her grandmother (Margo Martindale) and other kinfolk still live. Here, Dad, who is widowed, meets a new love interest name Lorelai (Melora Hardin), though this is nothing more than a transparent attempt on Billy Ray Cyrus’ part to have more screen time in the movie. He even sings a couple songs, too, in direct violation of the treaty signed by the United Nations after the “Achy Breaky Heart” tragedy of 1992.
Crowley Corners is also where Miley meets a new beau, a wholesome, skinny cowteen (that’s a teenage cowboy, right?) named Travis (Lucas Till). But never mind him. The real intrigue is that a British paparazzo named Oswald Granger (Peter Gunn) is snooping around, trying to find out Hannah Montana’s “big secret.” He has learned, by accident, that Hannah has some connection to Crowley Corners, and now he’s here looking for answers. Again, I have to conclude that he is not looking very hard. (Since Miley is a heroine in a Disney movie, she is allowed to mistreat Oswald as much as she wants to and it’s still OK.) At one point, Miley — not Hannah but Miley — gets up at a hoedown and sings a song for an audience already established as rabid Hannah Montana fans, and STILL no one catches on.
Meanwhile, part of the town is threatened by a developer named Bradley (Barry Bostwick), who wants to tear down the old buildings (moonshine distillery, book incinerator, Klan headquarters, etc.) and put up a shopping mall. To stop him, the townsfolk must raise enough money to pay the taxes. They hold a fundraiser that Miley invites her “friend” Hannah Montana to perform at, and that’s — wait, why doesn’t Hannah Montana just GIVE the town the money? And wait, Hannah and Miley are friends?! And STILL no one catches on?!
The film’s low point arrives when Hannah comes to town and is the guest of honor at the mayor’s banquet … at the very same time that Miley has a dinner date with Travis! And rather than changing the night, or even just the time, of the date, Miley tries to be both places at once, dashing back and forth from the banquet to the restaurant. You may recall this plot device from one of the 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 times that it has been used on television. For the most part, no one at the banquet even notices Hannah is gone, even though it’s a small affair and she’s seated at the head of the table. They are frequently distracted by Jackson (Miley’s brother; I mentioned him once earlier), who for some reason has a ferret at the table, and the ferret gets loose.
Now we’re getting into spoiler territory. Please do not read ahead if you do not wish to have the astonishing secrets of “Hannah Montana: The Movie” revealed to you.
Hannah performs at the benefit concert, sure enough, but her heart’s not in it. She’s tired of pretending! Also, she already got caught by Travis and feels bad for lying to him. So in the middle of a song, she stops singing and TAKES OFF HER WIG! The crowd gasps in horror and surprise. They had NO IDEA that Hannah Montana wasn’t actually a blonde! They also had NO IDEA that she was the same person as this girl who grew up here and has been hanging around again for the last couple weeks! Their world is crashing down around them!
Earlier, I said the reason Miley keeps her Hannah identity a secret is so she can live a normal life. But apparently, it’s important to her fans, too. They are crestfallen to learn that Hannah Montana’s real name is Miley Stewart, having never before heard of the concept of “stage names.” They do not want her to give up the charade. They want her to put the wig back on and be Hannah Montana again, even though — and I cannot overstate this — Hannah and Miley look, act, dress, talk, walk, think, and sing exactly alike. Everyone in the audience promises never to tell anyone in the outside world her secret if she will just put the wig on and be Hannah again. They’re like some weird little cult: “WE DON’T WANT MILEY! WE WANT HANNAH! BE HANNAH BEEEE HAAANNNNAAAAAH!”
Don’t I have anything positive to say about the film? Well, it does contain many songs that are sung by Miley Cyrus, playing Miley Stewart, playing Hannah Montana, and some of these songs are inoffensive to the ears and will not cause any lasting damage.
Warning: Billy Ray Cyrus not only appears in this film, but does so wearing a soul patch, even though he is nearly 50 years old. I would not want my children exposed to this.
D+ (1 hr., 42 min.; )