Raise Your Voice

No one expects quality from these silly wish-fulfillment movies that tweenage girls like, but “Raise Your Voice” is more inept than most. It perpetrates every cliché of the “follow your dreams” genre, which is bad enough, and then compounds the agony with laughably incompetent directing and storytelling.

It stars Hilary Duff, making her fifth film appearance in 19 months, for an average of one movie every 15 weeks since last March (and that’s not even including the ones she released under her other name, Mandy Moore). Her last film, “A Cinderella Story,” started sucking less than three months ago, and in fact is still sucking in some theaters this very day. There has been a glut of Hilary Duff, is my point, and I cling to the hope that “Raise Your Voice” will convince Hollywood that there is such a thing as too much of a mediocre thing.

In the grand tradition of Mariah Carey in “Glitter” and Jessica Alba in “Honey,” Hilary Duff plays Terri Fletcher, a 16-year-old Flagstaff girl with a dream. She wants to shake off the dust of this one-horse town and become a singer. She is allegedly gifted enough to be accepted into the Bristol-Hillman Music Conservatory’s three-week summer camp for high school students — but unfortunately, her dim-bulbed, toothpick- and scenery-chewing father Simon (David Keith) won’t let her go. Why? Because it’s in L.A., and L.A. is where teenage girls get raped and murdered, basically. (Pshaw, like that doesn’t happen in Flagstaff! Like, ALL THE TIME!!!!)

Before Terri even has a chance to worry about it, though, the movie throws her a curveball in the form of a loved one being killed in a car accident. As always, this accident was caused by a drunk driver running a red light; drunk drivers running red lights are the No. 1 cause of loved-one deaths in movies, and “Raise Your Voice” is not the sort of movie to buck trends.

Since grumpy dad won’t let Terri go to the conservatory, she and her sympathetic mother (Rita Wilson) hatch a scheme. They tell Dad that Terri has gone to stay with her Aunt Nina (Rebecca De Mornay) in Palm Desert for a few weeks, when in fact she’s in L.A. (I guess Dad doesn’t see the coincidence of Terri being 90 minutes from the conservatory during the exact period of time she was hoping to be AT the conservatory. Dad isn’t bright, I don’t mind telling you.)

Once Terri gets to Bristol-Hillman, the movie has to shift from weepy family melodrama to “Fame”-inspired suffer-for-your-art melodrama. There are montages of students in various voice or instrument classes, rehearsing tirelessly, keeping late hours, having impromptu jam sessions with their fellow student-musicians on the quad, and so forth. Terri keeps bursting into tears and packing up her stuff with the intention of going home, so unable is she to deal with the rigors of such an intensive program.

And how does the movie convey these rigors, you ask? Well, in one scene, Terri can’t hit the high notes in Handel’s “Messiah.” And as if THAT wren’t enough, she’s ALSO unliked by the snobby, popular Robin (Lauren C. Mayhew). How can you expect her to cope with such hardships? Who do you think she is, Job?!

The movie keeps insisting that Terri is an “outsider” in the program, but I don’t really get that. She’s pretty, thin and dresses fashionably, just like the popular girls. She’s only an outsider because someone thought audiences would respond better to an underdog story than they would to a story about a pretty girl who gets what she wants. They’re probably right, but still.

For that matter, I’m not sure why Terri’s even in the conservatory program to begin with. The only instrument she plays is piano, and that only barely. Mostly she’s a singer — but her voice is one of those breathy pop voices, not a classical voice such as would be welcome at a snooty conservatory where students are singing Italian operas and Handel’s “Messiah.”

I’m equally perplexed by the end-of-term final projects students must give in order to compete for a scholarship. All the training is classical, but most of the performances at the talent show are modern, even avant garde. I can’t imagine the stern Russian voice teacher being impressed because someone made her violin sound like an electric guitar, can you? Nor do I think he would care that Terri and her British boyfriend Jay (Oliver James) teamed up to write a bland, forgettable pop song, though this does not stop the movie from making us hear the entire song, from beginning to end.

The director is Sean McNamara, purveyor of such fine children’s fare as “3 Ninjas: High Noon at Mega Mountain” and the Disney Channel’s “That’s So Raven” and “Even Stevens.” I don’t think he has any idea what he’s doing. Not that first-time writer Sam Schreiber’s hole-riddled screenplay helps him much, but the directing is sloppy and artificial. There are numerous shots of people playing instruments, as you might expect, and seldom does it look even remotely like the actors are actually playing. I mean, not even close. And the one time Hilary Duff is supposed to get her opera part right, it’s quite clearly someone else’s voice dubbed in, with Duff badly lip-synching it. If you can’t compose convincing shots of people performing or singing, maybe you shouldn’t direct a movie about people who perform and sing. I’m just sayin’.

You know that dumb old comedy bit where someone asks two people what they’d doing, and since they don’t want to say what they’re actually doing, they lie, and give two different answers simultaneously? For example, one says, “Watching TV” while the second says, “Eating dinner”? And then they try again, this time trading responses, so now the first one says, “Eating dinner” while the second one says, “Watching TV”? This movie has one of those bits.

And you know that old romantic-comedy plot device where the forceful ex-girlfriend of the guy tries to patch it up with him and plants a kiss on him JUST at the moment the current girlfriend walks in? And then the current girlfriend refuses to listen as the guy explains that he did NOT initiate the kiss, and that in fact he was about to smack the ex-girlfriend off of him when she walked in? This movie has one of those, too.

In fact, I daresay the movie has every cliché and formula you could imagine, each more sloppily executed than the last. It has no spark, no wit, and no purpose other than to convince the world that Hilary Duff is a celebrity. I wasn’t buyin’ it 19 months ago, and I’m not buyin’ it now.

D (1 hr., 43 min.; PG, a little very mild profanity.)