Amanda Bynes, star of Nickelodeon’s “The Amanda Show,” got her big starring vehicle a few weeks ago with “What a Girl Wants.” Now her Disney Channel counterpart, Hilary Duff, gets her own TV-to-film adaptation, “The Lizzie McGuire Movie,” based on the 2-year-old series of that name. Add to these the various Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network programs getting big-screen treatment — “The Wild Thornberrys,” “Rugrats,” “Hey, Arnold!,” “The Powerpuff Girls” and so on — and I, as a movie critic, begin to resent being forced to watch TV when I go to the theater. It’s no wonder cinemas are showing TV commercials before the films: Why not, when the films are really just TV shows?
Anyway, “The Lizzie McGuire Movie” brings in nearly all of the major characters from the TV series, the main exception being Lizzie’s best girlfriend Miranda, who would have been in the way, plot-wise, and was therefore sent to Mexico on vacation. You have to wonder how that actress feels, being barred from the film because the screenwriters couldn’t figure out a way to include her.
Anyway, Lizzie (Duff) is a clumsy, energetic 14-year-old girl who, upon graduating from junior high, takes a school trip to Rome with 15 other students and one (1) chaperone — Miss Ungermeyer (Alex Borstein), the force-of-nature, no-nonsense principal at the high school Lizzie and friends will be attending in the fall.
With Miranda exiled to Mexico, Lizzie has only her best guy friend, Gordo (Adam Lamberg) — the Sheldon to her Megan, in terms of SNL’s “Wake up, Wakefield” sketch — to rely on. Their relationship is strictly platonic, but Gordo begins to realize on this trip that there may be deeper feelings a-stirrin’. If this were the TV show, the Rome trip would no doubt be a Very Special Episode. As it is, it feels like a rather long, drawn-out, unspecial episode, with approximately 60 minutes of material padded out with montages and other woolgathering.
Lizzie meets a cute Italian pop star her age named Paolo (Yani Gellman) and is soon the talk of the town, due to her supernatural resemblance to Paolo’s singing partner. That girl, Isabella, has recently broken up the act to prevent it being discovered that she lip-syncs all her performances. Paolo’s plan is for Lizzie to pose as Isabella for an upcoming TV appearance, lip-sync the song, and keep the fans from knowing there’s trouble behind the music. Fortunately, this concert takes place while Lizzie’s group is still in town, though it does mean evading Miss Ungermeyer.
It goes without saying, I’m sure, that Lizzie and Paolo fall in love, and that Gordo is a wee bit jealous.
For reasons I cannot fathom, Lizzie’s parents and obnoxious kid brother show up in Rome, apparently just to give them more screen time — further insult, in my estimation, to poor Miranda, who can’t even get a “goodbye, I’m going to Mexico for the summer” scene.
The film is packed with montages — the trying-on-funny-clothes montage, the touring-Rome montage, the learning-to-dance montage, the falling-in-love montage, etc., etc. The TV series’ conceit of having a cartoon version of Lizzie pop up occasionally to share her thoughts and fantasies is used, too, and is even more annoying on the big screen than on the small.
Duff herself is shrill and over-perky, traits she shares with the aforementioned Amanda Bynes. Still, “What a Girl Wants” worked for me — someone neither female nor aged 8-14, which is the target demographic — because of the charming presence of Colin Firth and the general smartness of the thing. “The Lizzie McGuire Movie,” on the other hand, is often dull and tepid. Alex Borstein provides a few honest laughs as Miss Ungermeyer, but aside from that, only the tweens the film is aimed at will probably find much to enjoy.
And they surely will enjoy it. It has a cute Italian-looking boy, cool wish-fulfillment in Lizzie’s adventures, and ends with a big dance number. What’s not to like?
My only question is, where’s the “Even Stevens” movie? That show is funny.
C (1 hr., 30 min.; )