Hilary Duff should not raise her `Voice' in song


October 08, 2004|By Roger Moore | Roger Moore,ORLANDO SENTINEL

Hilary Duff, the "Marcia Marcia Marcia" of the Disney Channel generation, emancipates herself from the Mouse but not her made-at-Disney persona in New Line's Raise Your Voice.

The movie, an earnest and eager Fame for the young and the tin-eared, showcases Duff in another one of her trademark "just believe in yourself" chaste romances. But just how many times can our cover girl play the put-upon but still best-dressed/best-looking girl in school?

Raise Your Voice does Duff no favors by plopping her in the middle of a music conservatory where her Disney-overdubbed singing is exposed for the wan piffle that it really is. Little Miss Lizzie McGuire has no pipes.

Duff stars as Terri, a 16-year-old from Flagstaff, Ariz., with singing ambition. Her boorish dad (David Keith) may not believe in her, but her brother Paul (Jason Ritter) does. Paul is a tad creepy in his Terri obsession. But all that voyeuristic videotaping is for a purpose. He enters her in a competition to get her into the fictitious Bristol-Hillman Conservatory for the summer.

And then Paul is killed in a car wreck. Terri loses her will to sing just when she's admitted to Bristol-Hillman. Mom (Rita Wilson) and cool Aunt Nina (Rebecca De Mornay) conspire to sneak Terri in, over Daddy's objections, "because it's what Paul would have wanted."

The movie's heart comes from the crippling loss Terri must overcome to succeed at Bristol-Hillman. She leans on her faith because most of the other kids at school ignore her.

The film's tiny trace of hipness comes from its supporting cast, led by John Corbett, who channels his old Northern Exposure persona as a too-cool voice teacher.

Ignore Duff's absurd makeup and lip-gloss budget, and it's so far, so good. The movie goes wrong the instant it pushes Duff, a studio "singer" with a pleasant enough but - let's be honest, American Idol first-round elimination - voice into the cream of the singing crop.

Oliver James, the bland young Brit who played Amanda Bynes' love interest in What a Girl Wants, is the aspiring pop star who macks on her. He can't sing either. Everybody else is presented as a concert-ready pianist, violinist, guitarist or horn player.

And then we go to voice class, where the pretty young things have three weeks to master "The Hallelujah Chorus" from Handel's Messiah, and Duff and the other singers there plainly couldn't pass for a competent high school choir. Duff overdubbed her vocal bits. It didn't help.

As an actress, Duff hasn't progressed beyond flipping her bangs and scrunching down her shoulders to show us how cute and insecure she is. Meanwhile Dana Davis is the street-talking African-American roomie who plays a mean synth-violin, and Kat Dennings has the Ally Sheedy role, the Goth-girl pianist lusted after by the dweebie sampler-drummer, Kiwi (Johnny Lewis, a ham).

Corbett seems to be in his own movie, having fun, riffing on music as if Chris-in-the-Morning had left Alaska and gone to graduate school.

Raise Your Voice may hit the notes Duff's fervent fans have come to rely on. They might even embrace its programmed "uplifting" moments. The rest of us will just reach for a pitch pipe. Or earplugs.

The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

Raise Your Voice

Starring Hilary Duff, John Corbett, Rita Wilson, David Keith, Oliver James

Directed by Jay Russell

Rated PG (thematic elements, language)

Released by New Line

Time 103 minutes

Sun Score *1/2

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