Rated PG-13 - Running time: 2:00 - Released 8/7/98

For a film that has obviously had a lot of money and time spent on it, 20th-Century Fox's Ever After: A Cinderella Story is surprisingly ineffective, with overdone humor that repeatedly falls flat and a cloying romantic story undermined by lackluster performances. Given Drew Barrymore's reputation (in real life and in her previous characters) as one who doesn't take anything from anybody, it's hard to believe her as a girl forced to work for her nasty adoptive family. But Barrymore's miscasting is only one flaw in this beautifully produced costume drama.

Perhaps the bigger problem is that there are virtually no characters we care about. Anjelica Huston as Ludmilla the stepmother is viciously nasty, as is proper, but the "Cinderella" character, Danielle, and Prince Henry of France (Dougray Scott) are a couple of spoiled brats with few redeeming qualities. Barrymore's Danielle is in conflict — she is put upon and tragic in her virtual slavery, but often speaks her mind bluntly and defies Ludmilla, as one would expect a character of Drew's to do. So there is the constant question: If she can stand up to Ludmilla, why doesn't she just tell her where to go? And if Ludmilla truly has the power to punish her, why does she put up with so much lip?

As the story begins, Danielle is a little girl with a loving father (Jeroen Krabbé), who has recently married the wealthy countess and adopted her two daughters. But soon after, he dies and leaves the four gals alone together. Ludmilla doesn't care much for the tomboy Danielle, and rears her as a sort of quasi-servant to the other three. When the girls come of age, Marguerite (Megan Dodds) and Jacqueline de Ghent (Melanie Lynskey) are fully accustomed to Danielle's servitude.

Soon the king (Timothy West) decides to have a masqued ball, and it is announced that the prince will then pick a bride. Ludmilla, with an eye on the crown, begins grooming Marguerite to be the chosen one. Since Jacqueline is not thought to be worthy of the honor, she remains somewhat neutral in the story, sympathetic with Danielle but ready to take full advantage should the prince unexpectedly choose her.

Danielle pretends to be a courtier in order to buy back a servant Ludmilla has spitefully sold away from his wife (another servant), and the prince sees her and is entranced. The two fall for each other and have several clandestine meetings, forcing many sudden costume changes for Danielle. But when the day of the masqued ball arrives, Danielle must go before all and proclaim the truth, or be caught in a web of lies.

This movie is an example of the technical department holding up its end of the bargain and the script writers (Susannah Grant with Andy Tennant & Rick Parks) and director (Tennant) failing to do so. The costumes and settings are gorgeous, and obviously well-funded. The scenes were shot at several real European castles, and Andrew Dunn's cinematography makes for a beautiful period piece. But the conflict between the silly comedic bits and the drippy love story has the effect that both elements fail, and the lack of sympathy generated by the "good guys" makes us wonder why we're supposed to care. The whole show seems to have a phony feel to it. There are a few nice moments when Barrymore's acting talent shines through, and the same can be said for Huston and Scott. But as a romantic comedy, this film is only slightly above average. ***½

Copyright 1998 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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