Disney Channel's top-rated sitcom has come to the big screen in the self-explanatorily titled "Hannah Montana: The Movie," doing away with the laugh track and expanding the scope to on-location shooting in California and Tennessee. The film, written by Dan Berendsen and directed by the overqualified Peter Chelsom (2004's "Shall We Dance
"), offers exactly what one expects and doesn't go out of its way to be anything more than a trifle targeting the 6-to-14-year-old set. Even still, beloved supporting characters from the series are squandered in nothing roles, and the ending sends out a troubling mixed message that disintegrates what should have been the whole point of the story.
Miley Stewart (Miley Cyrus) is your average everyday high schooler, with one hitch: she is also blonde-haired superstar singer Hannah Montana, a fact that only her family, publicist, and closest friend Lilly (Emily Osment) are privy to. When father Robbie (Billy Ray Cyrus) starts worrying that the spotlight on Hannah is growing too large and Miley is losing sight of who she really is, he packs them up and ships them to their rural Tennessee hometown of Crowley Corners to stay with grandmother Ruby (Margo Martindale) for a couple weeks. Just as Miley begins reconnecting with her roots and starts to fall for now-hunky childhood friend Travis Brody (Lucas Till), she finds herself faced with the task of introducing alter-ego Hannah to the country for a benefit concert to save a beloved patch of land that developers hope to turn into a shopping mall.
"Hannah Montana: The Movie" is likable in segments but thoroughly cornball throughout. Miley's predicament in whether she wants to continue being Hannah Montana and retain her privacy or shed the wig and be herself is as serious as the picture gets, and it is padded out with archaic subplots involving greedy land developers, a snoopy paparazzo (Peter Gunn), Robbie's romance with pretty but bland foreman Lorelai (Melora Hardin), and a chaste love story between Miley and Travis that doesn't so much as feature a kiss between them. Of course, both Lorelai and Travis are bound to discover the truth about Hannah Montana's identity, and of course there will be two falling-outs before tidy third-act reconciliations. Aims at comedy are lame and far too filled with slapstickMiley's older brother Jackson (Jason Earles) is on hand for no reason other than to get himself into a series of pratfallswhile two montages involving a revolving door, one madcap and the other played for drama, are so ludicrously staged they have to be seen to be believed.
In her first major feature film, Miley Cyrus is surprisingly winning, if mostly untested in the acting department. She is a natural onscreen, but it will be interesting to see if she has the ability to play other characters other than this one. The nostalgia-based duet she sings with onscreen and real-life dad Billy Ray Cyrus (2001's "Mulholland Drive
"), "Butterfly Fly Away," is sweet, simple and touching. As best friend Lilly, Emily Osment (2003's "Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over
") has little to do but stand around, and the very idea that she would be able to throw a huge sweet 16 bash on the Santa Monica Pier inadvertently makes her look shallow and spoiled. Since when did Lilly become endlessly wealthy?
Margo Martindale (2004's "Million Dollar Baby
") is no-nonsense and loving as Miley's grandmother Ruby, though any attempt to present her as down-home is ruined when, in her first scene, country music group Rascall Flatts is seen leading a sing-along in her living room. This flight of fancy is far-fetched, to say the least, and so is Taylor Swift's nonsensical appearance and performance at a hoe-down midway through. As love interest Travis, Lucas Till (2005's "Walk the Line
") was clearly cast for his looks over his thespian prowess, while Vanessa Williams (2004's "Johnson Family Vacation") brings a layer of dignity to her thankless role as Miley's dedicated publicist Vita.
"Hannah Montana: The Movie" is a sunny intermittent entertainment, but its heart isn't quite in the right place. The ending, with Miley beautifully performing "The Climb" as she comes into her own as a more thoughtful musician with more on her mind than silly pop songs, would have been the perfect capper for the film, and might have saved it from its myriad flaws. Alas, director Peter Chelsom egregiously turns his back on the moral of the storythat it is important to be yourselfimmediately afterward, and, as a result, the picture becomes decidedly pointless and hypocritical. Undiscriminating fans of the series will surely enjoy "Hannah Montana: The Movie" while it lasts, but in its last minutes the film spinelessly squanders the chance to be more than just sugary junk food.