Movie lacks snap, crackle of TV show

One of the dangers of reviewing kids' movies is the tendency to judge the material by adult standards. Your average 8-year-old doesn't give a rat's patootie about the mise-en-scne in 'Lilo & Stitch,' for example. Nor does the target audience for 'Dr. Dolittle 2' want to hear an exhaustive comparison of the Murphy Dolittle versus the Harrison Dolittle.

But those of us who dwell in that bizarro world between childhood and true adulthood Ñ those of us who watch Cartoon Network more than we watch CNN and own more toys than kitchen appliances Ñ can't help but feel that we're the target audience, too. Especially when a film is made from a kids' TV show that we enjoy.

Disney Channel's 'Lizzie McGuire,' in its third and reportedly last year of new episodes on the cable network, is one of those rare comedies that manages to effortlessly bridge the gap between parent and child. In following the middle-school adventures of the title character, the show reveals Lizzie's inner life through occasional asides from her animated counterpart, a cunning device that allows the character to fully express what she isn't saying to friends and family as she struggles with typical preteen angst.

Penned by a team of savvy writers and often directed by Savage Steve Holland ('Better Off Dead,' 'One Crazy Summer'), the 'tweencentric series is just twisted enough to appeal to grown-ups and older teens, too. Unfortunately, Disney didn't seem to understand that and, in squeezing the last bit of life out of the property, has made a tepid, lackluster movie lacking in any of the sparkle offered by the TV show.

Pretty, clumsy Lizzie (Hilary Duff) trips onstage at her graduation, bringing the whole shebang Ñ curtains, balloons, podium and all Ñ crashing around her classmates' ears. Hoping to escape the social humiliation, she embarks on a class trip to Rome where she has to room with her ex-friend/arch rival Kate (Ashlie Brillault) and meets a cute Italian pop singer named Paolo (Yani Gellman).

Lizzie, it turns out, is the spittin' image of Paolo's singing partner, and, through some ridiculous exposition not worth exploring here, he wants Lizzie to impersonate her at an international video award ceremony. So instead of looking at ruins, Lizzie pretends to be sick and then sneaks out to ride around all day on Paolo's scooter.

That's the entire plot. Younger viewers probably won't question why a group of junior-high graduates are traveling to Italy with their future high school principal (Alex Borstein, admittedly hilarious as the overbearing Mrs. Ungermeyer) or why an Italian pop duo would record all their songs in English. They may not even notice the paper-thin nature of the script.

But they'll notice the absence of Lizzie's best friend, Miranda, who's blithely explained away as being 'in Mexico City.' And they may be disappointed in the short shrift given Lizzie's other best bud, Gordo (Adam Lamberg), who starts to understand the depth of his feelings for Lizzie but has no adventures of his own, save moping around and playing second banana.

Younger fans will enjoy seeing the characters up on the big screen Ñ but grown-ups and more discerning 'tweens may be let down by this limp knockoff.

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