As far as recent teen chick flicks go, A Cinderella Story is superior to the pushily maladroit Sleepover and the unwatchable Ella Enchanted, but that doesn't mean it's much good. They've again taken the Cinderella fable and morphed it with The Shop Around the Corner/You've Got Mail's unidentified corresponding lovers' gambit and the usual shards from other teen comedies dating back to Pretty in Pink to make something that doesn't feel all that new.

After her father dies, Sam Martin (Hilary Duff) is a virtual slave to her stepmother (Jennifer Coolidge) and stepsisters. Things aren't much better at school, where Sam is routinely dissed by the cool kids for working in a diner and hopelessly pines for the big dog on campus, Austin (Chad Michael Murray). Her only friend is a mysterious online guy who quotes Tennyson and is seemingly all the things a misfit romantic yearns for.

Mark Rosman's direction, like Leigh Dunlap's flat script, is serviceable, nothing more. It only underlines the basic lack of imagination that permeates the production. The farcical fights pitting jocks against nerds, the geeky guy who serves as Sam's duenna/eunuch and winds up with the hottest chick in school, the under-conceived loser stepsisters, and the supposedly magical ball (read homecoming dance) where Sam meets her Prince all play with rote numbness. The fact that a domino mask has Austin completely stumped as to the identity of Sam, whom he sees every day, should give her a clue about his basic intelligence, however much they both might want to go to Princeton.

Duff may be every teen's idea of adorable, but she doesn't project much edge or interest beyond a golden-hearted, slightly harried cuddliness. Talented Regina King is wasted as fairy godmother--here, a diner waitress who donates her wedding gown for the ball scene. Rail-thin Murray is the very model of non-threatening pinup boy beloved of little girls everywhere since David Cassidy. It's all way too bland. Even the gifted Coolidge, who the filmmakers (as per usual) unimaginatively put to work straining for grotesque comic effect, fails to spark things up.

-David Noh