Watching Hilary Duff pretend she's a gawky middle-school misfit in "The Lizzie McGuire Movie," one is drawn toward two unavoidable conclusions.
First, that no misfit in the whole history of middle schools ever glowed in the dark as she does. And second, paraphrasing something Chris Rock once said in an altogether different context, if she's a loser, then you wonder who's winning.
I have since heard from our household's eighth-grader-in-residence that Duff, who is actually 15, did look kind of gawky a couple of years back when the Disney Channel began transmitting "Lizzie McGuire" through cable boxes across America. I'll take his word for it, though I maintain that Duff's Lizzie, were she a lot less nice than depicted here, looks like the kind of junior-high heartbreaker who'd be inflicting embarrassment rather than absorbing it.
This, I swear, is a backward-compliment way of saying that Duff's baby-bombshell exuberance is the only reason you keep watching "The Lizzie McGuire Movie" through its juiced-up, synthesized din. As with most big-screen transfigurations of small-screen fare, "Lizzie" the movie inflates the franchise to the point where even the whimsical charms of "Lizzie" the TV series seem bloated. Even the animated alter ego who delivers bright, blunt dispatches from Lizzie's subconscious almost gets swamped by the noise.
Still, fans of the show will be happy for Lizzie as she finally graduates from the eighth grade (though not without one last public indignity) and heads off on a trip to Rome with her classmates, including snooty Kate (Ashlie Brillault), airhead jock Ethan (Clayton Snyder) and nerdy pal Gordo (Adam Lamberg). Instead of one of the more mundane problems that pesters Lizzie at home, she's got a doozy.
It seems she's a dead ringer for the distaff half of an Italian boy-girl pop singing duo. The boy, Paolo (Yani Gellman), literally sweeps Lizzie off her feet and into a scheme in which she'd have to impersonate his missing partner for their scheduled performance during a globally televised awards show.
This proposal taps into Lizzie's own insecurities, which are, presumably, shared by the preteens who make up the audience for the TV show. The movie, with all its brashness and crassness, can still claim noble motives in encouraging insecure young people to seek the pop diva buried deep within. I don't know about them, but I'm seeking the Italian pop star inside me as soon as I finish this review.
'The Lizzie McGuire Movie'
MPAA rating: PG, for mild thematic elements
Times guidelines: Mild, tame girl-boy issues; nothing you have to explain afterward
Hilary Duff ... Lizzie/Isabella
Adam Lamberg ... Gordo
Hallie Todd ... Jo
Robert Carradine ... Sam
Jake Thomas ... Matt
Walt Disney Pictures presents a Stan Rogow production, released by Buena Vista. Director Jim Fall. Producer Stan Rogow. Executive producers David Roessel, Terri Minsky. Screenplay by Susan Estelle Jansen and Ed Decter & John J. Strauss. Cinematographer Jerry Zielinski. Editor Margie Goodspeed. Costume designers Monique Prudhomme, David Robinson. Music Cliff Eidelman. Production designer Douglas Higgins. Art director Patrick Bannister. Set decorator Sam Higgins. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.
In general release.