“Sometimes I wish I could be Hannah all the time,” whispers Miley Cyrus into a dressing room mirror at the beginning of Hannah Montana: The Movie, teeing up her dilemma over how to reconcile the two disparate halves of her personality (blond superstar Hannah and her secret identity, brunette farmgirl Miley) that’s already been grist for a TV show, concert film, recording career, sticker-book empire, and who knows what else. The only thing that appears to distinguish this thinly-drawn feature-length iteration of the megabucks franchise, aside from a couple of handsomely-composed song-and-dance numbers, is a stubborn resistance to facilitating a timely exit from the tween scene for its now driving-age star.
Instead of providing a resolution to all the Hannah hoopla, the film circles the wagons around the valuable brand by framing Hannah as an evergreen character that has no bearing on Miley’s emerging maturity. Any talk of hanging up the Hannah wig during the film gets actively refuted, most notably during an outdoor concert scene in which Miley attempts to open up to an audience by pulling the wig off her head and speaking from the heart, only to be quickly rebuffed by the unimpressed crowd. One voice after another pipes up, calling for her to restore the illusion. That these outbursts, including “Hannah is a part of you!” and “You won’t be happy without her!,” are framed as spontaneous positivity hardly obscures the message: Hannah isn’t going to be easily retired.
A harmless bender kicks off the main action, with a drunk-on-fame Hannah tussling with Tyra Banks over shoes in a Beverly Hills boutique and carelessly causing a mini-stampede by showing up as Hannah, not Miley, at a pal’s private party. The witless frenzy of this food-fight-level humor, all speeded-up motion and aimless shrieking, is probably par for the course in a film aimed at preteens, but it’s also at least semi-watchable thanks to the inherent weirdness of the Hannah Montana concept and the questions that tend to hang in the air after every scene. For instance, how does Miley decide when and where to be Hannah in the first place? When she gives interviews as Hannah, isn’t it all lies since her background and private life are secret? Does her ever-present publicist, played by a severe-looking Vanessa Williams, see any problem with hoaxing the entire world?
After the party disaster, Miley’s mullet-sporting daddy-o (played by her real-life daddy-o, country crooner Billy Ray Cyrus) steps in to intervene, whisking the reluctant teen off for some heartland-style rejuvenation in their Tennessee hometown, which is presented here as a kind of rural rehab with a lot of Southern stereotypes hanging around, including at least a couple of real-life country stars who get to toss in a few licks to complement the Miley/Hannah songs. As she focuses on making it through this “fame rehab” and getting back to the way things were, Miley slowly begins to interact with the paper-thin stock characters vying for her attention; there’s Travis (Lucas Till), a spindly and smitten teen cowpoke, a nosy British tabloid journalist who comes around looking for clues about Hannah’s real biography (at least someone is!), and an evil, Phil Donahue-looking land developer who cackles about his plans to destroy the town and even hauls around scale models of it, lest anyone forgets his place in this parade of random silliness. It’s all in good fun, even if it isn’t actually much fun.