Review by Dustin Putman
1½ stars out of 4
The first of two romantic comedies scheduled for this year about the
daughter of the President of the United States (the other is "First
Daughter," starring Katie Holmes), "Chasing Liberty" takes this soon-to-be-short-lived
novel premise and then offers no other reason for its existence. As
a love story, it is a strictly cookie-cutt er affair, seemingly cobbled
together on an assembly line of genre cliches. And as a comedy, it
holds no memorably clever lines or even very much to laugh at at all.
The movie is simply content to run through the motions for an interminable
111 minutes, where sparks of interest are few and far between and
the only thing worth looking at is the pretty European scenery.
With her father (Mark Harmon) having been the U.S. President for the
past six years, 18-year-old Anna Foster (Mandy Moore) has scarcely
known any other life than one in the spotlight and without privacy.
Yearning to reclaim her freedom from the Secret Service agents that
are constantly following her around, Anna escapes their grasp while
on a trip in London and pairs up with handsome 23-year-old backpacker
Ben Calder (Matthew Goode) to travel to Berlin for a Love Festival
taking places in a few days. Their trouble-filled journey takes them
on a tour through the likes of Prague and Venice, while Anna starts
to fall in love with Ben. What she doesn't yet realize, however, is
that Ben is a Secret Service agent himself, sent to be her protection.
Directed by Andy Cadiff, making his feature debut after a string of
television work, "Chasing Liberty" is dreary and listless, a romance
between two people who bicker for 90 minutes and then fall for each
other for the sole reason that the plot demands it. There is a startling
lack of chemistry between Mandy Moore and newcomer Matthew Goode,
at least partially because their respective roles of Anna and Ben
are never fully likable. "You think I'm just a spoiled, pampered brat,
but you're wrong," Anna defensively tells Ben at the midway point,
and then never does anything to prove him wrong. Indeed, in a lackluster
screenplay Derek Guiley and David Schneiderman, it is difficult to
get behind Anna and root for her because her every action is self-serving.
For Mandy Moore, an effervescent talent who has smoothly transitioned
from being a singer to a credible actress, this is a poorly written
part that does her no favors. Whatever charm Anna holds, it is because
of Moore's performance. After much weightier roles in 2002's "A Walk
to Remember" and 2003's "How to Deal," this is a step down for her,
and something she could probably do in her sleep. As love interest
Ben, Matthew Goode struggles to stand out. For the most part, Ben
is a dullard with few distinguishing characteristics, and Goode has
trouble fleshing h im out. Lending meager support are Mark Harmon
(2003's "Freaky Friday"), who seems awfully meek to be the President,
and the underrated Jeremy Piven (2003's "Runaway Jury") and Annabella
Sciorra (1998's "What Dreams May Come") as a pair of agents secretly
following Anna while sparking an unlikely romance of their own.
Filmed on location in Prague, London, Berlin, and Venice, "Chasing
Liberty" plays like a luscious travelogue and little else. The characters
are mostly one-dimensional, sitcom-style creations, and the plot is
so thin as to be nearly transparent. The only would-be suspense to
come of any of it is whether Anna and Ben will get together in the
end, and the answer to such a query can be guessed before the film
even starts. Had Mandy Moore and Matthew Goode shared the required
chemistry to make their romance an involving one, there might have
been some worth to this project. Unfortunately, there is none between
themsomething that doesn't seem so tragic since their relationship
(and their shallow characters) are never worth caring about, anyway.
"Chasing Liberty" marks the first notable bomb of the 2004 movie season.
Let's hope the upcoming "First Daughter" isn't this generic.
Copyright © 2004 Dustin Putman