I'm almost ashamed to admit this, but I was expecting plenty more oomph from "Hannah Montana: The Movie." The Disney Channel show makes it a point to be as piercing to the senses as possible, which makes the molasses pacing and muted effort from the big screen incarnation definitely strange. It's not like I'm demanding depth here, just a hope that the sparks stay ahead of the yawns, and maybe a genuinely inspired moment of slapstick or two. For a film that's essentially a lengthy commercial for the soundtrack, it doesn't seem unreasonable to wonder why the adolescent electricity was dialed down for this tricky crossover attempt.
Letting fame as Hannah Montana bloat her ego, Miley Stewart (Miley Cyrus) has committed the ultimate sin of teendom: ruining the sweet sixteen birthday party prepared for her BFF, Lily (Emily Osmet). Sensing his daughter needs some time away from the stage to "detox" her celebrity status, Robby Ray (Billy Ray Cyrus) takes his family back home to Tennessee for two weeks to get back in touch with their country roots. Settling in, Miley finds romance with cowboy Travis (Lucas Till), a renewed relationship with her grandmother (Margo Martindale), and a chance to feel life without the burden of the blonde wig. It's only a matter of time before the town needs Hannah to perform a charity concert, leaving Miley unsure about her future as an artist, opening the door for a bumbling reporter (Peter Gunn) to nab the scoop of the century.
Having never watched more than a few flashes of the television show and personally passing the age of the target demo for this film by roughly 100 years, some may argue that I'm not the proper judge for "Hannah Montana: The Movie." Truthfully, I might not possess the tools to compute country star cameos and vital supporting characters, but an infuriatingly slack pace doesn't need a weekend cram session of DVD box sets to detect. Director Peter Chelsom (who's gone from "Funny Bones" and "Hear My Song" to a Disney basic cable adaptation) seems hesitant to place any sort of fingerprint on the material, instead arranging a primary color caper for the Cyrus ensemble to parade around in.
To be more specific: I'm not sure Chelsom was even awake during production. The editing throughout the picture is untidy and confusing, the camerawork seems afraid of the actors' faces, and there's little eagerness to build a snappy pace. Granted, "Movie" probably doesn't represent Chelsom's finest professional hour, but when faced with the well-oiled "Hannah Montana" machine, it doesn't register as all that difficult to make it stand up and shout a little to entertain the young ones in the audiences.
The pokey quality of "Movie" only lasts for the first half of the film, where the breezy plot is arranged glacially and Chelsom fills up on loving shots of Tennessee farmland and idyllic small town hayseed bustle. After the aimless introduction, old faces from the show return to shake the material awake (while hardly Lucy and Ethel, Cyrus and Osmet share generous slapstick chemistry the film should've embraced more tightly). "Movie" seems more concerned with puppy love than reheating established nonsense, but without laughs (I don't mean duds, I mean actual attempts at humor), there seems little reason to stick around for the melodrama. Chelsom and Disney do their best to distract the audience with a multitude of musical numbers (a goofier one, "Hoedown Throwdown," is destined to be this generation's "Ninja Rap"), but the songs are atypically plastic country fodder for the spunky Cyrus, who possesses nice corroded cords for a singing voice and a bright, bedazzled camera presence. Chelsom doesn't know what to do with her, keeping the star in a straitjacket for most of the picture.
It's a heaping of G-rated pleasantries, saccharine tunes (and screenwriting themes), and comforting faces, and with younger audience members just happy to be out of the house, I doubt anyone will fault "Hannah Montana: The Movie" for being a little on the sleepy side. Still, this picture held the seeds to be something livelier to match the charisma of the star, only to turn down the opportunity in the name of drowsy country living.
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