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Not to be a mean girl, but the new "Mean Girls" is not as good as the old "Mean Girls."

It's probably best to go into the musical remake knowing that, for instance, Reneé Rapp cannot hold a candle to Rachel McAdams' peerless evil as head mean girl Regina George. She's the antagonist in the comedy about a naive newcomer who is shaped into a popular girl by the title characters, only to realize that kindness and respect are way more grool (it's a mashup of "great" and "cool") than popularity.

If you can avoid direct comparisons, I bet you'll have fun at "Mean Girls." It's the same story, with most of the iconic lines intact ("Stop trying to make 'fetch' happen"), but Fey has updated the references in her script, the cast is much more diverse this time around and there are several fun, unexpected cameos to keep things lively.

Angourie Rice, the Aussie actor who played Kate Winslet's daughter in "Mare of Easttown," is excellent as the naif, Cady (and probably more convincingly ordinary than the original, Lindsay Lohan). In a cast full of Broadway-style belters (including Auli'i Cravalho, who was the voice of "Moana" and who is terrific as Cady's artist pal, Janis), Rice uses a thin, real-person voice as Cady. It's a sweet sound, but it can't match the power of the others in the cast, which is a smart choice because her singing instantly establishes shy, previously home-schooled Cady as an outsider.

Other standouts include Broadway veteran Jaquel Spivey, as the third, funniest corner of Cady and Janis' friend triangle, and Fey, who brings new nuances to Ms. Norbury, the wise, wise-cracking teacher she also played in the original. Her speech about treating ourselves and others with kindness would sit nicely in a let's-be-good-to-each-other pamphlet next to America Ferrera's "Barbie" speech about the complexity of whatever wave of feminism we're on now.

Directors Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr. keep "Mean Girls" moving briskly, with some inventive transitions between scenes. The movie's costumes and design are — sorry, Regina — relentlessly fetch, with some very bold makeup choices (there's a monograph to be written about what the makeup department is saying about authenticity, artifice and the character-building decision to leave freckles alone).

There also are clever nods to the unreality of musicals. Some songs are pitched as internal monologues or fantasy sequences but most of the characters seem to know they're in a musical and, at one point, Ms. Norbury begins to sing a line of dialogue and then — because Fey is not a singer — thinks better of it.

But about those songs...

They're not great and, except in the case of finale "I See Stars," they add almost nothing to "Mean Girls." Moments after the movie was over, I couldn't remember a single melody and I can quote only a few lyrics ("How far would you go to be popular and hot? Would you resist temptation? No, you would not") because I wrote them down so I could decide later if they were sharp or catchy (again, no).

The directors have pared back the songs, eliminating some and truncating others, which was a good move. But I still couldn't help wishing I was watching the original or, failing that, a remake with this cast and less singing.

"Mean Girls" **½ out of 4 stars Rated: PG-13 for language, smoking, drinking and sexual situations. Where: In theaters.