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"FIRST DAUGHTER"
(2004) (Katie Holmes, Marc Blucas) (PG)

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QUICK TAKE:
Romantic Dramedy: The President's daughter heads off to college and tries to lead her own life, but her actions don't always sit well with her parents or her father's bid for reelection.
PLOT:
Samantha Mackenzie (KATIE HOLMES) is like every other teenager who's about to head off to college. That is, except for the fact that her father (MICHAEL KEATON) just so happens to be the President of the United States. Having grown up in the public eye, Sam knows how to handle herself, but is growing tired of being on the reelection treadmill, a point noted by her mom, Melanie (MARGARET COLIN), the First Lady.

With a bit of going away advice from her White House assistant, Liz Pappas (LELA ROCHON FUQUA), Sam travels across the country, but not without all of the First Daughter baggage that comes along with the position, including Secret Service agents Bock (MICHAEL MILHOAN) and Dylan (DWAYNE ADWAY) who are assigned to protect her.

Sam's new roommate, Mia Thompson (AMERIE), initially isn't pleased upon seeing her, but the two soon become fast friends, although all of the attention paid to Sam eventually gets on Mia's nerves. Sam also meets and falls for her R.A., James (MARC BLUCAS) who helps her elude the press and try to lead a normal, college life. Unfortunately, that includes some wild partying that makes the press, thus potentially endangering President Mackenzie's reelection bid. As the days pass and revelations occur, father and daughter try to come to grips with the situation and their evolving relationship.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
Any way you look at it, growing up as a teenager is no stroll in the park. One must not only deal with self-doubts and parental involvement, but also the notion that the eyes of the world are trained on you, noting your every flaw and misstep. When such kids are already in the limelight, that only exacerbates the problem. Throw in the potential to derail your dad's career due to your behavior -- especially when he's the President of the United States -- and you have a crisis of monumental proportions.

Such is the premise of "First Daughter," the latest film from actor turned director Forrest Whitaker ("Hope Floats," "Waiting to Exhale"). In it, the title character is headed off to college all of the way across the country. Yet, she still can't manage to shake her parents' reach or that of the secret service agents assigned to protect her.

A romantic dramedy, the effort is about as predictable, formulaic and gushy as such genre entries can be. All of which may have been slightly tolerable if the similarly themed "Chasing Liberty" hadn't beat this horse out of the release gates earlier this year.

Although there are differences in terms of exact plot, characters and certain details, there are so many similarities -- including the "big surprise" in terms of the young love at hand -- that those who saw the first film won't be able to avoid the "been there, seen that not long ago" reaction.

Yes, it's another case of Hollywood bad and/or coincidental timing where similarly themed or plotted films are released with a short time of one another. To be fair (and in a perfect world), the second film shouldn't be penalized for that. And when the first effort is mediocre to bad, the subsequent one always has the chance of being better and proving that the story can work (as was the case with "Big" following all of those other body switching films that preceded it).

Unfortunately, "First Daughter" won't be remembered for that distinction, or anything else for that matter. Whitaker, who hasn't met a montage he couldn't film (I gave up counting at six), has delivered a slipshod effort, replete with usual genre trappings, but also plenty of kitsch, sappy dialogue and a slew of unintentional laughs in moments that presumably aren't supposed to be funny. Fans of this sort of maudlin and forced material might possibly savor the offering, but most everyone else will likely elect not to see it again.

The one thing the film has going for it is star Katie Holmes ("Pieces of April," "Abandon") in the lead part. About as cute and adorable as can be, she lights up the screen whenever she's on it with her natural radiance and megawatt personality. Unfortunately, the mediocre script -- penned by Jessica Bendinger ("The Truth About Charlie," "Bring it On") and Kate Kondell ("Legally Blonde 2") -- is far below her and her cast-mates' abilities.

Marc Blucas ("The Alamo," "View From the Top") appears as the potential boyfriend who's obviously too good to be true (shock of all shocks), while Amerie (making her feature debut) is present as the comic relief/life-advice character. She's full of welcome spunk, but never expands beyond her initial trappings and wavers too easily between support and green-eyed jealousy.

Michael Keaton ("Jack Frost," "Multiplicity") appears as the father every teenage girl would want as their dad (after all, as he previously said in another role, "I am Batman!"), but I never bought him as the President. Margaret Colin ("Unfaithful," "Blue Car") plays the First Lady in a part that obviously needed more fleshing out, but is something of a casting coup for physically resembling Holmes. Michael Milhoan ("Collateral Damage," "Pearl Harbor") and Dwayne Adway ("Soul Plane") are present as more comic relief playing the always present secret service agents, one of which is the strong, silent type until he predictably utters one line at the end.

Slightly okay for a while (mostly thanks to Holmes' presence), but increasingly clunky and poorly directed as it unfolds, "First Daughter" might entertain Holmes' fans and/or young girls who are fans of the genre. If you vote for this candidate with your cinematic dollars, however, you'll only have yourself to blame for four or more years of such offerings. The film rates as a 3 out of 10.




Reviewed September 21, 2004 / Reviewed September 24, 2004


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