January 6th, 2004
To me, Mandy Moore has always been a little more charismatic and talented than her bubblegum pop princess contemporaries in the acting department. With “Chasing Liberty,” my tolerance for Moore is running thin. A formula-down-to-the-bone teen romance/European travelogue (the third in under a year), “Liberty” is a crushing bore, directed without vision, and written without a brain.
Anna Foster (Mandy Moore), like any other 18 year-old girl, just wants a boyfriend and her privacy. Trouble is, she’s the President’s daughter, and wherever she goes, hordes of Secret Service agents follow. As the First Family heads to Prague for a political summit, Anna desperately wants to visit Germany for a dance festival, which her father (a bored-out-of-his-wits Mark Harmon) objects to. After playing a little shell game with hair color and clothes, Anna escapes the clutches of the agents, and meets a handsome Brit named Ben (Matthew Goode), who assists her in the escape plan. On their way to Germany, the two flirt endlessly and embark on many Euro-centric adventures, but Ben resists Anna’s invitations for romance, and he holds a secret he knows Anna will not enjoy when finally revealed.
The first of two planned “presidential daughter” features for 2004 (the Forest Whitaker directed, Katie Holmes starring “First Daughter“ is due out later this year), “Chasing Liberty” is the first out of the gate, and probably the one that utilizes its premise the least. More of a travelogue/kiddie romance than a probing of White House life, “Liberty” is made specifically for teenage girls who fetishize European adventures and hunky foreign lads. “The Lizzie McGuire Movie” and “What a Girl Wants” also mined the exact same material, both to varying degrees.
Of course there is a formula to this genre, and, as you may have guessed, “Liberty” isn’t going to stray far from it. Directed by television veteran Andy Cadiff, “Liberty” doesn’t have much depth to it, or much focus. It’s a 105 minute feature film that has very little story or character to prop up the running time, and it’s often a crushing bore. Star Mandy Moore’s last outing, “How to Deal,” made some baby steps toward new genre ideas, or, at the very least, an accurate presentation of teenage emotions. “Liberty” is a Tiger Beat magazine come to life, and it’s distressing just how little courage and vision was put into the film.
Cadiff has moments of motivation as he stitches together a “best of” compilation reel of European cities like Prague and Venice; the locales are beautifully shot, and given their due respect by the characters. But all too often, Europe is pushed aside so the central romance can be given the spotlight it doesn’t deserve.
I’ve praised Mandy Moore before as a charming actress, and I stand by that. “Liberty” has Moore as a bundle of indication and coy smiles, but she’s charming when the film needs it, and creates a lukewarm chemistry with co-star Matthew Goode. Goode coats his side of the acting with a poor man’s version of a young Hugh Grant - all British smarm and eye rolling. Only when he takes off his clothes does it become clear why the studio cast him in the role. Anchoring the obvious time-filler B plot is Annabella Sciorra and Jeremy Piven as two flirty Secret Service agents, and they are much more fun to watch if there must be a love story in the film.
After drinks, kisses, train rides, charming strangers, skinny dipping, citywide raves, devirginization, and a romantic gondola ride, “Liberty” finally arrives at a point where the film could choose to keep the momentum going and be realistic to the situation Anna and Ben are in, or take the labored route of breaking them up so their reunion can be met with 1000 smooches and Puccini’s “Turandot” in the background. I’ll let you guess what happens.
My rating: D