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With: Hilary Duff, Oliver James, John Corbett, David Keith, Rita Wilson, Rebecca DeMornay, Jason Ritter, Johnny K. Lewis, Dana Davis, Kat Dennings
Written by: Mitch Rotter, Sam Schreiber
Directed by: Sean McNamara
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements and language
Running Time: 103
Date: 03/18/2013

Raise Your Voice (2004)

1 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Have Faith, Will Pander

By Rob Blackwelder, SPLICEDwire

Another bland, prefabricated feel-good vehicle for another chirpy Disney-cultivated pop-singer teen queen, Raise Your Voice thinks it's a brave movie full of life lessons for young people because the main character's older brother is killed by a drunk driver in the first act.

The tragedy comes back to haunt supposedly talented 16-year-old Terri (Hilary Duff in terrible platinum tresses) from depicted-as-dead-end Flagstaff, Ariz., as she spends part of the next summer at a prestigious music academy in Los Angeles -- which she does secretly and very much against the wishes her tetchy father (David Keith). But given this opportunity for genuine depth, screenwriter Sam Schreiber and director Sean McNamara blow it by recycling the most banal story elements in the misunderstood-teen lexicon. For example, who do you suppose has an on-cue change of heart after seeing Terri perform in the Big Finale?

Straining desperately to seem at once hip (for the kids) and harmless (for their parents), Raise Your Voice is best personified by Duff's love interest -- a clean-cut, non-threatening faux-punk aspiring musician (Oliver James from the equally vanilla teenybopper flick What a Girl Wants). More than once the pair (and others) badly lip-sync and air-guitar their way through overproduced and studio-polished bubblegum-rock songs, staged as if they occurred spontaneously.

What they don't do is get hot and heavy because Raise Your Voice is also a PG picture peppered with Christian undertones and messages of chastity. Surprisingly, McNamara (whose previous credits are mostly from lousy children's television shows) handles the religious elements with much more panache than he does the plot. Raise Your Voice contains so many time-compressing montage sequences that its four weeks of summer school feel more like four months.

Terri's faith plays a role in how she deals with her brother's death, and the music leans toward Hallelujah Chorus rehearsals and lyrics about the walls of Jericho and "someone watching over me" -- yet it's never preachy. But can someone please explain to me why movies with faith-based themes -- even unobtrusive ones -- almost always lack any semblance of originality or imagination?

Predictable to a fault and overflowing with feeble soap-operatic contrivances (Terri walks in on her guy being kissed by a Catty Rival from Central Casting), this movie brings its star down with it -- asking more of Duff than meager acting charms are capable of delivering. Her crying jags are unconvincing (I smell onion just off screen) and her squeaky voice too forgettable to believe it landed her in an elite music program. Even when she smiles busily and sends happy glances skyward while with her new boyfriend, she seems to be posing and posturing, as opposed to acting (let alone acting naturally).

The movie's few truly natural moments come at the hands of John Corbett (Raising Helen) as an understanding and soulful hippie music instructor, and Rita Wilson as Duff's brokenhearted mom. But even though they're good, the casting is misguided. Keith and Wilson look nothing at all like broad-faced Barbie doll Duff. Meanwhile, Rebecca DeMornay (Risky Business, Identity), whom the star more closely resembles, is relegated to playing a "cool" aunt who aids and abets the girl's escape to L.A. -- a part for which Wilson would have been perfect.

Had Raise Your Voice been infused with some fresh ideas, it might have shown potential for rising above genre pap. But that would have required someone -- anyone -- to care about more than just Sunday School over-simplicity and separating adolescent girls from their cash.

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