A few weeks back, I made myself a promise: from here on out, for the rest of 2009, whatever movie is #1 at the box office, I'm going to see it and review it. A pledge born from my exceedingly misguided guilt that I'd managed to skip both Paul Blart: Mall Cop and Madea Goes to Jail. Then, as April 10 rolled around, I found myself praying to any god that would listen that Fast & Furious was able to cling to its title.

As it turns out, though, Hannah Montana: The Movie isn't all that horrible a movie. Certainly, it's a good sight better than Disney's last musical extravaganza aimed squarely at tweens. Really, the worst part of the experience was facing down the the theater employees who, I am quite certain, were silently judging me as a pedophile as I shuffled out of the auditorium with my jacket zipped to my neck and my eyes focused unwaveringly at my sneakers.

Perhaps I am the most ignorant man on the face of the planet - and perhaps I'm just lucky not to have any 12-year-old girls in my life - but I had absolutely no clue what the central concept of the Disney Channel's massively successful Hannah Montana TV series was. It turns out that the franchise centers on Miley Stewart (Miley Cyrus), a California teenager of Tennessee extraction whose greatest dream in life is to be a pop singer; but she doesn't quite want that dream enough to give up being a normal high-schooler to achieve it. So, with the help of her dad Robbie Ray (1990s flash in the pan country singer Billy Ray Cyrus, Miley's real-life father), she acts out her celebrity fantasies in the form of Hannah Montana, the most famous teenager in the world. I gather from the Wikipedia that most of the episodes center around Miley Stewart's attempts to deal with the normal things that adolescents deal with while struggling to conceal her identity, and spending time jet-setting around the globe. The plot of the movie involves her trip back home for what her dad calls a "Hannah Detox", learning the simple joys of being a country girl during two weeks spent celebrating her grandma's (Margo Martindale) birthday, fighting the encroachment of an Ee-vil Capitalist's development company, and flirting with the sexy farmboy Travis (Lucas Till), whose voice is roughly 30 years older than his face.

I do not mind at all admitting that I found this all quite fascinating, conceptually. The idea that a simple girl from a quiet rural home would choose to invent for herself an alternate personality that gives her access to all the fame, money and raucous implied sexuality associated with pop stardom is, for a start, the kind of idea that would make Dr. Freud weep tears of unmixed joy, and a more motivated viewer than I could probably write one hell of a thesis paper describing how Hannah Montana represents the pre-teen girl's desire to enter the realm of adult sexuality through safe, parentally-controlled channels. More interesting to me at least is the franchise's accidentally ironic metanarrative: the very premise of the story is that an Everygirl would pursue stardom and international fame while preserving a "regular" existence in the background, while this character is portrayed by a 16-year-old actress who probably is the most popular teenager in the world, and who presumably does not enjoy the private normality that Miley Stewart reserves for herself. The film is almost indecently eager to make sure we don't notice this fact; one of the main conflicts is centered around a British tabloid journalist (Peter Gunn) trying to ferret out Hannah's secret, the implication being that without the protection of an alter-ego, Miley could not possibly continue to keep the Hannah façade intact. This isn't just wrong in some abstract logical sense, it's wrong in a very specific sense exactly tied to our very own reality: Miley Cyrus is able to go on tour simultaneously as both herself and Hannah Montana, and not only does this not result in her fans growing angry and dismissive of her dual identity, it famously led to a controversy in 2007 and '08 over the obscene prices the sold-out "Best of Both Worlds" tour tickets were fetching on the secondary market.

Notice that I call all of this fascinating conceptually. Because once you extract all of these post-graduate media theorist fancies, Hannah Montana: The Movie is a completely bland thing in nearly every respect. Directed by the fine hack filmmaker Peter Chelsom with maximum slickness and no cleverness at all, the film is absolutely functional, and deserves no praise greater than "it's no worse than it ought to be". The numerous musical numbers are the only point where the film rises above the slack craftsmanship of a television program, and even those are notable only for being pointlessly over-edited.

The best thing the film has in its corner are a few of the actors, particularly Martindale (an instantly-recognisable and quite good character actress, whose most prominent role is probably in the final, greatest segment of Paris, je t'aime; one hopes that her presence in a blockbuster will at least give her a higher profile with casting directors), and Miley Cyrus herself, who proves to be gifted with uncommon comedic timing, and a refreshingly non-fussed-over earthliness to her bearing and appearance (doubtlessly, this is a persona carefully fussed-over by dozens of executives and designers, but hell, if it works, it works). I can honestly see Cyrus finding some measure of success in acting once the teenybopper phase of her career ends, as always should have happened to the gifted and criminally misused Mandy Moore.

On the other hand, the film is not driven by its acting, but by its musical performances, and bless her for trying but Cyrus just isn't nearly as talented as her outrageous popularity would make you hope for. She is no worse a singer than any of us; but none of us are music stars, and when a vocalist can't sound better than average after what I'm certain was weeks of audio post-production, that's when you just have to cradle your head in your hands and weep for America's youth. This might not have been so disastrously noticeable if not for the presence in a single scene of 19-year-old country singer Taylor Swift, who is genuinely talented (though herself not to superstar levels), and who could undoubtedly sing laps around Cyrus if the two young women were ever locked in a steel-cage deathmatch.

But who gives a damn what I think? Every junior-high girl in America can't be wrong, except in matters of sense and aesthetics, and Disney surely doesn't care about those things if their bottom line looks as happy as I suppose Hannah Montana makes it look. All things considered, youth entertainment can be a great deal worse than this, so I should probably just shut up, admit that nobody forced me to watch the movie, and reassure those parents whose kids haven't yet forced them to see this film that they have certainly endured worse.