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-cutter 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 him 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.