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"CHASING LIBERTY"
(2004) (Mandy Moore, Matthew Goode) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Romantic Drama/Comedy: Secret Service agents try to keep track of the President's 18-year-old daughter as she sets out for the first time to experience life and freedom while in Europe.
PLOT:
Anna Foster (MANDY MOORE) is the 18-year-daughter of President James Foster (MARK HARMON) and First Lady Michelle Foster (CAROLINE GOODALL) who's grown tired of her Secret Service protection, especially when it interferes with her dating life.

Thus, when the First Family heads to Europe for work, Anna wants to cut loose with her old friend, Gabrielle (BEATRICE ROSEN), the French Ambassador's now grown-up and wild daughter. Gabrielle is more than happy to help Anna ditch her detailed protection that includes agents Alan Weiss (JEREMY PIVEN) and Cynthia Morales (ANNABELLA SCIORRA).

She does so by getting a ride with British photographer Ben Calder (MATTHEW GOODE) who helps her elude the Secret Service. She appreciates his assistance and likes his cool attitude and demeanor, but doesn't realize that he's actually another Secret Service agent assigned to protect her. When the President gets word that Anna is with Ben, he orders that the agent continue his ruse as her new friend so that she can experience some freedom, albeit in a completely controlled fashion.

As the two make their way across Europe as accompanied by bohemian Scotty McGrath (MARTIN HANCOCK) -- with Weiss and Morales not far behind and starting to flirt with each other -- Anna and Ben start to develop feelings for one another. That development obviously puts Ben in an awkward position, as he must then balance his newfound feelings for her with his duty to the President, knowing full well that Anna will likely discover his ruse sooner or later.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
While there are all sorts of stressful challenges in family dynamics and relationships, few are as rough as those where kids turn into teenagers. That's when they want to express their individuality and freedom from their parents who still want to protect and educate them.

Such parent-child issues are at play in "Chasing Liberty," the latest romantic dramedy starring Mandy Moore. The difference here, however, and symbolized by the opening shot pulling out of her character's bedroom window to reveal a certain big white house, is that she's the President's 18-year-old daughter.

One can only imagine the extra strain that the paparazzi, fame and/or notoriety and perpetual Secret Service protection would place on the usual parent/teenager dynamics. Such is the premise concocted by screenwriters David Schneiderman & Derek Guiley (making their feature debut) and director Andy Cadiff ("Leave it to Beaver," plenty of TV shows). Thematically akin to the 1996 Sinbad comedy, "First Kid," the film features a similar "first child" who's smothered by her father's prominent political, cultural and historical position.

The "twist" this time is that when she flies the coop during a European First Family tour, she unknowingly ends up under the protection of a Brit working for the Secret Service. She, of course, doesn't realize this and falls for him, thus setting up the standard mistaken identity storyline that's fueled many a romantic comedy and drama.

The results are exactly what's to be expected for a film like this. From the time Moore's Anna hops the foreigner's motorbike - just like Hilary Duff and Diane Lane before her in "The Lizzie McGuire Movie" and "Under the Tuscan Sun" respectively - there's never any doubt about what's going to occur in individual scenes or as a collective whole.

As I've stated before, there's a certain viewer demographic that loves that formulaic approach, and I'm sure they and Moore's fan base will eat up these offerings. They essentially boil down to what could best be described as "Mandy Moore's Roman Holiday" or "Mandy Moore's European Vacation."

Unfortunately, and despite the alluring presence of the pop singer turned actress, this effort isn't as good as the former picture or as funny as some of those National Lampoon "Vacation" films. To be fair, it's obviously designed more as a light drama than a comedy. Whatever the case, it's about as boring and mundane a 110-some minutes that you'll ever spend watching a by the numbers effort.

The one thing the film has going for it - which it has in spades - is Moore ("How to Deal," "A Walk to Remember"). Not only is she gorgeous and exudes a radiant onscreen personality, but she also has a natural quality about her that works wonders on viewers. Thus, it's too bad that the material she's forced to play is far beneath what appears to be some capable acting chomps. Only time will tell if that ever comes to fruition, but this is not the sort of material that will prove it or turn her into a serious actress.

Playing opposite her is Matthew Goode ("South From Granada") as the agent who's assigned to protect her, but ends up falling for her while being unable to tell her the truth about who and what he really is. While it isn't as complicated as it sounds, I can see how some of Moore's fans will view him as the cat's meow. Goode is okay in the role, but the chemistry between him and Moore often feels too forced and contrived rather than natural.

Jeremy Piven ("Runaway Jury," "The Family Man") and Annabella Sciorra ("Above Suspicion," "What Dreams May Come") appear as other agents assigned to protect Anna. Apparently feeling the need to fill up vacant screen time, the filmmakers created an entire romantic subplot for their two characters. Unfortunately, they're barely personified, and since we don't care about them or their budding romance, the constant switching to their material robs the main story of needed time and momentum.

Beyond them, Mark Harmon ("Freaky Friday," "The Presidio") occasionally appears as the President (in typical mode), Caroline Goodall ("Shattered Glass," "The Princess Diaries") gets even less screen time as the First Lady, while Martin Hancock ("24 Hour Party People," "Liam") tries his best to appear and act like a young Rhys Ifans.

While I suppose there's a smidgeon of potential in the premise, the bland and predictable way in which the story unfolds suffocates all of it. If not for Moore's presence, this would be nearly unbearable. Even with it, the end result is boring, artificial and mundane. "Chasing Liberty" rates as just a 4 out of 10.




Reviewed December 23, 2003 / Posted January 9, 2004


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