Thank heaven for little girls, as Maurice Chevalier used to warble. Where the legendary showman celebrated the delightful ways they grow up, I am at the moment appreciative of the way they show up. Namely, in the nick of time to provide an alternative to the latest X-Men.
My wife is worried about me. My 12 year old son is incredulous. Even the theater manager thought I was kidding when he waved me in and asked what I was seeing as he whipped X2 tickets out to hundreds of teenage boys like a blackjack dealer on speed.

There’s a perfectly logical and totally innocent explanation: The fact is I made a decision sometime between the third Batman and the Shaquille O’ Neal superclunker Steel that I simply wasn’t going to any more movies made from comics. I don’t read comic books. Why would I want to watch them?

Sure, the Supermans were fun at the time and the first Batman or two were interesting. Hollywood knows a good thing when it beats one into the ground, though, and subsequent motion pictures adapted from comics increasingly seemed designed primarily as a means of sparing geeky Sega generation teens the burden of actually reading. The Crow was followed by The Phantom then Spawn and then Blade. More recently, certified film school graduates found their expensive skills squandered on instantly forgettable stuff like From Hell, Unbreakable, Daredevil and Bulletproof Monk not to mention Crow and Blade sequels. Men in Black was occasionally entertaining but its sequel made the “10 worst” list of a number of the nation’s critics last year.

They’re loud, they’re long (usually), they blare the same explosions, effects, fights, goofball baddies and perennially pubescent sensibility. Why anyone with a life would bother is beyond me. So you can imagine my sense of dread as the weekend approached and it looked as though X2 would be its only new major release. It was like staring into the firey pit. But then, as I say, thank heaven.

Or, more accurately, thank Disney. The Lizzie McGuire Movie brings the Disney Channel’s popular series to the big screen along with its effervescent young star, Hilary Duff. Evidently the picture picks up where this season ended with McGuire graduating from junior high and embarking with a smattering of friends on a class trip to Rome.
Along for the ride: Ashlie Brillault as a former best friend who’s inexplicably turned on her, Adam Lamberg as Gordo, her self-described “guy best friend” and “MAD TV” alum Alex Borstein as the chaperone who’s a scene stealing fusion of Janeane Garofalo and George “The Animal” Steel.

Once in the Eternal City, it isn’t long before the young woman’s attention is diverted from tours of ancient ruins. A young Italian pop star catches sight of her one day and explains that she’s the spitting image of his former partner who just walked out on the hugely successful duo. He asks to spend time with her while she’s in town and, smitten to the max, she concocts a series of ruses to get excused from daily ruin patrol. Together they share a PG Roman holiday and McGuire is offered the opportunity to realize a lifelong dream. She’s always fantasized about living the life of a pop singer and her new friend just happens to be one diva down with a major appearance coming up fast.

Will she impersonate his partner, in the process finding love and stardom or will she find that Gordo’s right about the guy–that he’s really an Italian rapscallion with ulterior motives? Finding out, believe it or not, is only half the fun you’ll have in the course of this hardly groundbreaking, but thoroughly charming comedy. Fans of the show are guaranteed to be fans of the film. The remarkable thing is parents are likely to be nearly as charmed as their progeny. The dialogue is unexpectedly funny, the cast competent and likable. As MTV age fairy tales go, few can match this one’s infectious energy and good feeling.

And then there’s Duff, without a doubt the most deft and fetching young female entertainer ever to bear the name of Homer Simpson’s favorite beer. Behind the camera or in front, there’s no shortage of talent in Lizzie McGuire, but the truth is it’s the Hilary Duff movie all the way.

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