out of 4
All-Reviews.com Movie/Video Review
|*Also starring: ||Marc Blucas, Dwayne Adway, Philip Boyd, Andrew Caple-Shaw, Christopher Childs, Piper Cochrane, Margaret Colin, Chad Davis, Denise Gillyard, Hollis Hill, Ashly Menser, Michael Milhoan||
Review by Dustin Putman
1½ stars out of 4
In my January 2004 review of "Chasing Liberty," the first romance
of the year about the teenage daughter of the President of the United
States, I criticized the film as being a cookie-cutter affair—dreary,
listless, and with precious few sparks between leads Mandy Moore and
Matthew Goode. The review concluded this way: "Let's hope the upcoming
'First Daughter' isn't this generic." For a while, all signs pointed
that this would be the case, with director Forest Whitaker (1998's
"Hope Floats") touting his picture as being the more prestigious and realistic of the two.
Nine months later, "First Daughter" has finally reached the screen,
and the outcome is a combustible one. In fact, "Chasing Liberty,"
as fluffy and forgettable as it may be, is the superior film of the
two, and "First Daughter" is every bit as generic. No matter which
screenplay was written first, "First Daughter" has the misfortune
of being released second, and its strikingly familiar storyline, at
times a blow-by-blow carbon copy of "Chasing Liberty," makes it seem
like a tired rip-off. At least the earlier movie featured some pretty
on-location European scenery to look at; this one can't even withstand
that limited scrutiny.
With her father (Michael Keaton) the U.S. President, 18-year-old Samantha
Mackenzie (Katie Holmes) has been forced to grow up in the public
eye. When she is allowed to go off to college at California's Redmond
University, however, Samantha sees it as her first step toward freedom
and adulthood, wishful thinking that is quickly squashed by the Secret
Service agents who must follow her around night and day. With other
classmates viewing her as a celebrity rather than a person, Samantha
feels blessed to meet and start to fall in love with James Lansome
(Marc Blucas), a handsome student who sees her for who she is rather
than who the public perceives her to be. What she doesn't yet know
is that James is a Secret Service agent himself, sent to befriend
her and make her feel comfortable in her new setting.
The similarities between "Chasing Liberty" and "First Daughter" are
astonishing, from the superficial (both deal with the President's
daughter seeking freedom) to the specific (both romances are hit with
a blow when the guy turns out to be an undercover agent), but that
is really the least of this film's problems. A sappy, consistently
dull confection, "First Daughter" is substandard romantic hokum that
has not one creative bone in its body, nor one noteworthy scene in
its whole 105 minutes. Screenwriters Jessica Bendinger (2002's "The
Truth About Charlie") and Kate Kondell (2003's "Legally Blonde 2:
Red, White & Blonde") halfheartedly strive to find the reality in
its premise of a President's daughter going away to school, but they
and director Forest Whitaker make the fatal mistake of featuring a
wraparound narration in the form of a "Princess Diaries"-style fairy
tale. They also fail to say anything of interest about its subject
matter; the one subplot with potential—that of Samantha's loneliness
in leading her unconventional, unavoidably public life—is thrown to
the wayside in favor of a derivative, charisma-free romance.
Tragically, Katie Holmes (2003's "Pieces of April"), a wonderful young
actress known for making usually smart career choices, is left stranded
with nothing of consequence to say or do as Samantha Mackenzie. She
is forced to act too cute by a half in the first act—her kissy scenes
with on-screen father Michael Keaton are downright creepy at times—and
then makes a valiant effort to bring pathos to the second hour, at
odds with the one-note writing she has been given. Marc Blucas (2001's
"Summer Catch") is a bore as love interest James, his one distinguishing
trait being that he is too old for the part.
Romantic magnetism fails Holmes and Blucas, who mostly just sit around
reciting flat dialogue while supposedly falling in love. One tacky
cliche of a scene between them even takes place on a small boat with
Samantha holding a parasol while claiming how normal she really is.
None of it is to be believed for a second, and so the viewer places
no rooting stakes on their relationship. Perhaps the filmmakers should
have taken a good, long look at last spring's incendiary "The Girl
Next Door" to see how a truly affectionate romance between young adults
can be done on film with passion and urgency.
For the most part, "First Daughter" avoids politicism, although the
way in which Samantha is forced to drop out of school late in the
picture to support her dad's reelection campaign is spiteful, making
her parents look like self-involved snobs who don't care about their
daughter's own future. Meanwhile, the scenes set in front of the White
House (clearly filmed in front of a blue screen and nowhere near DC)
are ludicrously phony-looking, giving the proceedings a bargain-basement
feel. The mess of a finished product, with other subplots like Samantha's
roommate's (Amerie) torn feelings of jealousy and kinship toward her
new friend coming and going with zero rhyme or reason, comes as an
ironic respite to director Forest Whitaker's false claim that his
picture is a step above "Chasing Liberty." It is a step down, if anything.
"First Daughter" is charmless and confoundingly amateurish, a trifle
of bankrupt non-ideas that will be forgotten about long before the
November election even gets here.
Copyright © 2004 Dustin Putman
Buy movie posters!