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Early in Raise Your Voice, an overprotective father defends his choice to forbid his daughter from attending a summer music program in Los Angeles by appealing to his family with “She’s 16, for God’s sake. What’s wrong with you people?!” David Keith, the 25-year Hollywood veteran given this unfortunate line, could just as easily be talking to any of the music and movie execs, agents, or stage parents who have turned co-star Hilary Duff into a corporation before she’s even reached voting age. Her Terri Fletcher is a small-town girl who’s, like, totally a good singer, which we know from numerous shots of her performing in her church’s choir and lip-synching to pop songs, as captured on video by her almost creepily attentive older brother (Jason Ritter). She’s a decent liar, too, its turns out: Aided and abetted by her mother and aunt, Terri finds a way to get around mean old Dad and attend that performing-arts program anyway. Fame this ain’t, though Terri is introduced to a quick succession of stereotypes: Cute British Guy, Bitchy Girl, Spazzy Guy, Goth Chick, Sassy Black Girl, and so forth. (Oh, and don’t forget Prof. Grunge, otherwise known as John Corbett desperately trying to reclaim some of the cool of his Northern Exposure days as the leather-and-flannel-clad choral instructor.) Terri, of course, is no longer the most talented singer she knows, and several of the requisite self-improvement scenes feature her trying and failing to hit notes—interestingly, the only instances of Duff’s singing not dubbed-in and lip-synched. Although Casper Meets Wendy survivor Sean McNamara is basically directing a musical here, he still falls back on the kid-vid montage way too often: At least a dozen are used, either for scene transitions or to gloss over the gaping narrative holes left open by first-time scriptwriters Mitch Rotter and Sam Schreiber. Before you know it, the summer’s over and the entire cast is staging a sub-Stomp jamboree, with the grown-up cast members nodding their heads and feeling the music like a Lawrence Welk Show audience. And young Ms. Duff? Well, if she adds a second facial expression to her repertoire of one, she could someday be a strong contender to replace Meg Ryan when Ryan’s lips finally shrivel up and fall off. For the moment, though, she hardly seems ready to be the multimedia phenom she’s become. Perhaps someone should have just let her be a kid instead.

—Jason Powell