Films like "Stand by Me" and its less-lauded female counterpart "Now and Then" provide the tenuous model for "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants," a film about friendship in which the friends are rarely seen together. On the eve of both womanhood and their first-ever summer apart, a quartet of 17-year-old pals-from-birth -- America Ferrera, Blake Lively, Alexis Bledel and Amber Tamblyn -- happen across a seemingly magical pair of jeans that happens to perfectly fit all four of their very different bodies. Sensing that this is some sort of mystical omen, they agree to take turns with the jeans, each successive wearer FedExing them on to the next when their time is up.
Beyond the mystery of the universal fit, there's nothing terribly wondrous from here on out -- while wearing the jeans, each girl undergoes a fundamental growth experience, but it's never more than implied that the jeans had anything to do with it. Carmen (Ferrera) expects to spend a happy summer with her father, only to find out that he has a fiancée and a pair of soon-to-be stepchildren waiting in the wings. Blonde bombshell Bridget (Lively) heads to Mexico for soccer camp only to get romantically involved with a hunky coach. Lena (Bledel) goes to Greece to visit her grandparents, only to fall in love with a boy from the family of their arch-enemies. As the only one of the four who didn't leave town, Tibby (Tamblyn) aims to finish her documentary on the working townsfolk, only to end up unexpectedly befriended by a younger girl (Jenna Boyd) suffering from leukemia. And through it all, audiences will enter theaters expecting a heartwarming tale of estrogen-enhanced camaraderie only to be pummeled by one sentimental cliché after another. This is, yet again, a movie in which the pretty girls get the boys, friends are always there when needed and no problem is too great for the power of love -- life lessons that are today at least as dated as they have always been soundly untrue.
Not that all this will really come as a huge surprise to anyone reading the credit block -- it's essentially the same type of thing that screenwriters Delia Ephron ("This is My Life," "Hanging Up") and Elizabeth Chandler ("What a Girl Wants," "Someone Like You") have been doing separately for years. It's also firmly in keeping with the slushy mediocrity that director Ken Kwapis ("Beautician and the Beast," "Dunston Checks In," "He Said, "She Said") has increasingly made his stock and trade. Miraculously, the four young actresses seem entirely unaware of the train wreck to which they've been hitched -- and that's a good thing, because without their fine and convincing performances, there would be absolutely nothing to make this interminably overlong 120-minute melodrama worth watching. Starring America Ferrera, Blake Lively, Alexis Bledel, Amber Tamblyn, Jenna Boyd, Bradley Whitford, Nancy Travis and Rachel Ticotin. Directed by Ken Kwapis. Written by Delia Ephron and Elizabeth Chandler. Produced by Debra Martin Chase and Denise Di Novi. A Warner Bros. release. Drama. Rated PG for thematic elements, some sensuality and language. Running time: 120 min