Originally created 10/06/04

At the Movies: 'Raise Your Voice'



With Britney getting married twice in the same year, Christina going from blond bombshell to goth chick and back again, and Lindsay defending the authenticity of her breasts on a near daily basis, at least there's Hilary Duff, who seems to represent the last bastion of all that is sweet and wholesome in these mixed-up teen-idol times.

Her image is so old-school, it's almost refreshing - despite looking like a mini-Jenna Jameson with her tight T-shirts and long, platinum locks.

The "Lizzie McGuire" star makes this abundantly clear once again in "Raise Your Voice," a sort of Christian version of "Fame."

Imagine the performing arts students from that movie (which seemed so racy back in 1980, didn't it?) being transplanted from New York to Los Angeles and depleted of their nudity, unwanted pregnancy and desperate dreams of stardom, and this is what you'd have.

"Call me a dork, but I love choir practice," Duff's perky character, Terri Fletcher, effuses after belting out "Joy to the World" with her equally eager classmates at the film's start. Her original songs are just as feel-good: "There's a light in me and it's shining bright," she sings in a breathy, tinny voice while sitting at home at her keyboard.

Then Terri's brother, Paul (Jason Ritter, son of John Ritter, to whom he bears a striking resemblance), dies in a car crash that she survives. Although her mother (Rita Wilson) gives her the cross Paul always wore around his neck, Terri loses the desire to sing - until she learns she's been accepted to a prestigious summer music program in Los Angeles.

Despite its religious overtones, though, the film from director Sean McNamara and writer Sam Schreiber seems morally at odds with itself. This is a movie that says it's OK to lie to your father (David Keith) and run off to L.A. on your own if your dad is a pigheaded, overprotective jerk. That's just what Terri does with the help of her mother and her aunt (Rebecca De Mornay, who could pass for Duff's sister).

Once she's there, her classmates universally ostracize her for being a goody-goody and lacking the angst that's requisite for an artist. She eventually falls into a chaste romance with a rakish British musician named Jay (Oliver James, who played another rakish British musician last year opposite another squeaky-clean tween queen, Amanda Bynes, in "What a Girl Wants").

As in Britney's "Crossroads" and Mariah Carey's "Glitter," the two lovebirds compose a generic ballad together. The results aren't any more inspiring the third time around.

Thankfully, a scruffy, flannel-clad John Corbett shows up, looking like Russell Crowe between movies, and brings some much-needed edge and energy as one of Terri's music teachers. But besides that, nearly every note in "Raise Your Voice" ironically rings false.

In their tepid version of the "Hot Lunch Jam" scene from "Fame," for example, students sit in a sun-splashed courtyard, play the guitar and sing "ooh, ooh" while smiling sweetly at each other.

While it's admirable of the filmmakers to try and offer something for young people that's not hopeless or subversive, what they've come up with here is earnest and wholesome - but unfortunately stiff and a corny.

"Raise Your Voice," a New Line Cinema release, is rated PG for thematic elements and language. Running time: 103 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.

Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:

G - General audiences. All ages admitted.

PG - Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

PG-13 - Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.

R - Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

NC-17 - No one under 17 admitted.