Another Cinderella Story

I guess the best thing that can be said about the direct-to-video release “Another Cinderella Story” is that it is not quite as bad as it should be. Which is not to say it is any kind of trendsetter for films made on the cheap to capitalize on some kind of name recognition, be it a pseudo-sequel to a once-popular film or derivative of another franchise.

“Another Cinderella Story” isn’t a direct follow-up to the 2004 Hilary Duff movie “A Cinderella Story,” which really didn’t need to exist in the first place, let alone warrant a Part Two. What it really wants to be a “High School Musical” clone, going so far as to raid The Mouse House to get two of its rising stars, Selena Gomez and Drew Seeley. And that’s really the jest of it. Get to see two up-and-coming Disney stars dance and sing their way through their own feature film.

Erik Patterson and Jessica Scott’s script follows the generic “Cinderella” story fairly well. Cinderella, in this case Mary (Ms. Gomez), is the orphaned daughter of a dancer who has been taken in by Dominique Blatt (Jane Lynch), a past-her-prime one-time pop star whom her mother used to be a dancer for. Mary finds herself an indentured servant to Blatt and her two awful daughters, Britt and Bree, needing to sneak around in order to do extracurricular activities like dance class… although Mary not actually paying for her dance classes, you see. She just sneaks in to an always-open window of a local dance class that lucky for her leads to a room that happens to have a one-way mirror to the main classroom. It’s here where Mary gets to see teen pop sensation Joey Parker (Drew Seeley), up close. You see, Joey has been touring non-stop for years, and he now just wants to return home a spend a year as a regular teen, even though he’s got to participate in some dance-off for someone to appear in his next music video.

You can see where this is going, rightr Of course you can, and it gets there lickety-split, following the general tenets of the “Cinderella” story, only with some slammin’ dance moves and a few product placements to help defray production costs and add some realism to the mis-en-scene (instead of losing her glass slipper, our modern girl drops her Zune when the clock is about to strike midnight). But with the help of Mary’s best friend Tami (Jessica Parker Kennedy) and Joey’s best friend and manager Dustin (Marcus T. Paulk), the two lovebirds will eventually find true love.

As a musical movie, “Another Cinderella Story” could have used more songs like “Just That Girl,” which actually warrant a second listen, and less songs like “Hurry Up and Save Me” or “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know.” It’s no “Singing in the Rain” or “West Side Story,” but what is these days?

As a dance movie, the movie has a few sequences which are adroitly shot and allows the participants to actually move for more than two seconds before cutting to the next shot. It’s no “Swing Time” or “An American in Paris,” but what is these days?

As a comedy, however, the movie just plain stinks. The usually mirthful Ms. Lynch is completely wasted as the Madonna-meets-Mae West over-the-hill pop star who still thinks she has it, barely making it through the motions as she waits for another phone call from Christopher Guest or Judd Apatow, while most of the gags that recall the original source material are too forced to be effective, and every boy band joke here is a variation of something that was tired when N’Sync and Backstreet Boys actually mattered.

Ms. Gomez, who seems to be more famous now for may be dating a Jonas Brother and being a frenemy of Miley Cyrus, has a decent presence and some respectable dance moves, but if she can really sing is a big mystery, as either her vocals are toned down (during the acoustic version of “New Classic” with Mr. Seeley in her character’s bedroom) or drawn through a bank of voice synthesizers (the aforementioned “Tell Me Something”). Mr. Seeley, who provided the singing voice for Zac Efron in the first HSM movie, has a natural and effortless charisma to go along with his singing and dancing abilities, with his only limitation here being that he does look a little too long in the tooth to be playing a high school senior. Ms. Kennedy and Mr. Paulk have several cute scenes together, even though their characters have no real counterparts in “Cinderella.” The same cannot be said for Katharine Isabelle or Emily Perkins, whose shrill takes on the evil stepsisters just grates the nerves.

Perhaps not so strangely, “Another Cinderella Story” is more enjoyable when it tries to not shoehorn in elements established in Charles Perrault’s version of the story. Mary and Joey interact with each other several times before the ball (or in this case, a school dance), and then we still get a good third of the movie after that to watch them start to fall in love, split up and get back together again. And let’s not get started on the school dance, which is set up as a masquerade ball, where Joey’s ex-girlfriend Natalia seems to know her good friends Britt and Bree on sight, but none of them recognize either Joey, who is the mark for every girl in school, or Mary, the girl all three have tormented for years, simply because of a two dollar mask. But why am I expecting even a modicum of sense in a teen movier

It appears director Damon Santostefano is becoming the studio go-to guy when one needs a helmer for a direct-to-video sequel to a modestly successful theatrical release made four years before. First there was 2004’s “Bring It On Again,” and now there is “Another Cinderella Story.” Maybe in 2012, we’ll see him bringing “What Else Happens in Vegas” or “The House Bunny Once More” to high-definition television screens everywhere. And hopefully, by then, Santostefano will discover some kind of directing style that will make his movies stand out from the myriad of other bland productions with barely higher than television movie aesthetics that go straight to video.

The few extras that come with the DVD, including a handful of behind-the-scenes featurettes and three sing-along music videos along with the requisite coming attractions for other teen girl-targeted titles, are instantly forgettable.

If you want a good “Cinderella” story, there are many others to try. This one is strictly for those who think “High School Musical” is like the most bestest thing of all time and those who hate it just don’t understand it and stuff.

Rating: D