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With: Mandy Moore, Matthew Goode, Jeremy Piven, Annabella Sciorra, Mark Harmon, Stark Sands, Miriam Margolyes, Adrian Bouchet
Written by: Derek Guiley and David Schneiderman
Directed by: Andy Cardiff
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual content and brief nudity
Running Time: 111
Date: 01/07/2004
IMDB

Chasing Liberty (2004)

2 Stars (out of 4)

'Liberty' Belle

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

That Mandy Moore certainly is perky -- and not unattractive. But is she a genuine movie star, or just another product whose marketing campaign far exceeds any kind of actual talent? Her performance in the new movie Chasing Liberty -- a kind of Roman Holiday knockoff about the First Daughter taking a European romp -- is perfectly competent. But any of a thousand other teenagers with high school theater training would have given the exact same performance.

On the other hand, it's hard to picture Moore occupying more difficult, more nuanced roles in which other actresses her age have excelled, like Scarlett Johansson in Lost in Translation, Anna Paquin in 25th Hour, or Kirsten Dunst in The Cat's Meow. It's also hard to imagine one of those talented actresses accepting the likes of Chasing Liberty as a possible project. Yet because of Moore's pop-idol fame, Chasing Liberty was bought and sold before it ever opened, and teen girls will be lining up to see it. Fortunately for them, the film is just innocuous enough and contains enough nice touches to reward the price of a ticket.

It also breaks Moore out of her potential Doris Day image and gives her an urge for sex. The PG-13 rated film has her continually taking off her clothes, even if it's discreetly and mostly off-camera. But don't expect any political humor, except for one very lame Clinton joke. In this America, Moore plays spoiled First Daughter Anna Foster. Her potential dates can apparently drive their convertibles right up to the White House and the automatic gate just swings open. Yet the security detail on Anna herself is tight enough to smother her.

Secret Service agents accompany Anna to every possible event, accosting young men who approach her in the wrong way and seriously sabotaging her ability to find romance. But, during a diplomatic trip to Europe with her parents, Anna escapes with the help of the French Ambassador's hottie daughter, Gabrielle (Beatrice Rosen). A smoldering photographer with a British accent (Matthew Goode) catches her eye and helps her escape. Little does she know that he's also Secret Service, assigned to protect her. And -- like Gregory Peck's Roman Holiday reporter -- he can't tell her who he really is.

Most films in this subsection of the romantic comedy genre -- the "liars in love" -- climax in the same way. The innocent lover finds out about the lie and storms out of the relationship, and we wait for the liar to apologize and re-start the romantic flame, usually over the course of three scenes. In Roman Holiday, this carries more weight. The AWOL princess (Audrey Hepburn) is just as much a liar as the reporter and the picture convinces us that the lies are necessary and that everything is at stake. Moreover, Hepburn genuinely seemed like a princess while Moore can't quite convince us that she's American royalty.

Neither can Goode convince us that he's falling in love with her. He does a very good cynical brood and we get the idea that he's stuck in a job that he doesn't really want, but at no time do his eyes betray a sense of passion or surrender. Fortunately, the movie saves itself with a much more convincing and touching supporting love story between two other secret service agents who have trailed Anna to Italy. Both the goofy Weiss (Jeremy Piven) and the sexy Morales (Annabella Sciorra) lack touchy-feely communication skills and so we grow more attached to them as their clumsy romantic interest blossoms.

Other than that, Chasing Liberty is a fantasy without anything fantastic. Disappointed moviegoers would do well to rent Roman Holiday, or, to a lesser extent, Moore's own movie debut, The Princess Diaries, a movie that understood the appeal of the adorably awkward Anne Hathaway and the villainous slant of the more outgoing, extroverted Moore. Perhaps Moore's future lies in playing bad girls. It would be fascinating to see her don black leather, mount a motorcycle and blast her way out of her current clean-cut Hollywood marketing machine trap.

(This review originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.)