Even if you live in a cave or loathe little girls, you’ve probably heard of Hannah Montana. The pop-star alter ego of regular gal Miley Stewart (Miley Cyrus) and the title character of the wildly popular Disney Channel series sashays back to the bigscreen without missing a beat in “Hannah Montana: The Movie.” Widely accessible even to neophytes, the G-rated pic is innocuous fare that should score big with tween girls, as well as those parents seeking age-appropriate role models for their daughters.
The pic’s theatrical release — sandwiched between Cyrus’ sold-out 2008 tour and 3-D concert film, and the upcoming publication of her memoirs (at age 16) — seems poised to maximize existing Miley-mania. (Her stardom has long since eclipsed that of her dad, country star Billy Ray Cyrus). Propelled by the younger Cyrus’ charisma and undeniable talent, the Peter Chelsom-helmed film looks to be another smart move in a career thoughtfully shepherded by her father.
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A kind of meta-commentary, at least in part, on the “Hannah” phenomenon, the pic kicks off with Miley trying to get into a concert — her own –with best pal Lilly (Emily Osment), while Miley’s dad Robby Ray (Billy Ray Cyrus, of course) fumes backstage over her late arrival. Hijacking a golf cart, the girls zoom past clueless security guards (unaware, like everyone else, that Miley and Hannah are the same girl), greet Dad and transform mild-mannered Miley into Hannah (with the help of blonde wig, false lashes, sequins and heels) in time for her show.
Busy moonlighting in Hannah Montana musicvideos and jetting off to awards shows, Miley barely has time for friends or family anymore; the Hannah character and celebrity obligations have overtaken her life. After Miley/Hannah nearly ruins Lilly’s sweet-16 bash and is a no-show at her brother Jackson’s (Jason Earles) college sendoff, Robby Ray hauls her off to Tennessee for a dose of reality, promising to turn the pampered Malibu starlet back into a country girl.
Despite Miley’s strenuous objections, Dad insists she’ll have to spend two weeks in rural Crowley’s Corners, helping on the farm owned by her no-nonsense grandma (Margo Martindale). After much initial grousing, Miley begins to warm to the task. It doesn’t hurt that there’s a cute (but entirely nonthreatening) ranch hand named Travis (Lucas Till) around, or that widower Robby Ray has caught the eye of the lovely Lorelai (Melora Hardin).
But of course, villains of the G-rated variety lurk nearby: an aggressive tabloid journalist (Peter Gunn), grasping for dirt on Hannah; and a greedy developer (Barry Bostwick) who plans to turn Crowley’s Corners into a shopping destination. (“Will there be a Bloomingdale’s?” Miley asks hopefully, before realizing a mall would extinguish Crowley’s small-town charm.)
Mayhem and pratfalls ensue at the expense of these two baddies, including the old hot/mild sauce switcheroo and a couple of nips by a hungry alligator; all the hijinks are played for laughs and, while bordering on tedious, will appeal especially to younger audiences. Several pleasing musical numbers act to both advance the story and help bridge gaps, including a rousing, toe-tapping, line-dancing hoedown led by Miley in an effort to raise funds to stave off the developer. But apparently, only a concert by Hannah Montana herself — engineered by Miley, her publicist (Vanessa Williams) and Lilly — can command the kind of audience that might save the town.
An 11th-hour identity crisis has Miley/Hannah trying to figure out who she really wants to be, and settling on a compromise that should ultimately satisfy her fans. The same is certainly true of the pic, a goofily endearing romp that might even lasso a few new fans.
Tech values are fine; lensing by David Hennings complements colorful production design credited to Caroline Hanania.