American Innocent Abroad
After gorging on a heavy holiday diet studded with creatures from Middle Earth, lovers separated by the Civil War, and tragic domestic quarrels, moviegoers may welcome a frothy romantic comedy like Chasing Liberty. It has fetching leads, a vibrant soundtrack, and European locales that make you want to buy a Eurail pass, strap on a backpack and head for the Continent. Since it's otherwise pretty forced and repetitive, even the least discriminating teens will be anxious to move on to the next Hollywood trifle.
Pop singer Mandy Moore plays First Daughter Anna Foster, an eighteen-year old with an over-protective father (Mark Harmon) who has an army of Secret Service agents at his disposal to ensure she doesn't have any normal teenage fun. "Liberty" is Anna's Secret Service handle, and that's the only bit of irony within miles of this project. Talk about protection. Fathers everywhere wish they could keep such a close watch on their teenage daughters.
Hungering for a taste of love and freedom -- and encouraged by the French ambassador's wild daughter -- Anna flees a stuffy diplomatic event in Prague. She bumps into a hunky British photographer (Matthew Goode) who helps her slip her detail, but who turns out to be working for the enemy -- her dad. A pair of agents (Jeremy Piven and Annabella Sciorra) fall in love themselves while tracking the duo through Venice, across Austria, and all the way to Berlin where Anna is desperate to get jiggy at a beatnik happening called the "Love Parade." Anna and her escort encounter some diverting if clichéd characters such as a Scottish prankster and a softhearted gondolier, yet nothing, including the parental ire of the Commander-in-Chief, can derail their love.
The PG-13 rating is justified by partial nudity, the proverbial sexual situations, and references to third base and tongue piercing. This is for teens, not pre-teens. Chasing Liberty can be about as subtle as "Hail to the Chief" or a John Philip Souza march, and yet it's hard to resist first love. Many scenes have energy thanks to the music, and forget the meticulous re-creation of the Oval Office at England's Pinewood Studios, the European cities are authentic. So it seems are the cute leading couple.
Matthew Goode cuts a handsome figure in his first major screen role. While his deep voice is ideal for the theater, his clean-cut good looks should ensure he'll be busy on screen for a while. As for Moore's longevity, the jury is still out. The coltish ingénue has the broad, innocent face of the American heartland; and judging by her modest tabloid profile, she's the anti-Britney Spears. Like the movie, Moore is better when she's not mushy or pouty and just lets loose. She should do it more often, at least on screen. She gets the chance to stretch her acting muscles in the independent comedy Saved! due this March in which she plays a nasty schemer at a Baptist high school. It will be interesting to see what Moore is capable of sans bodyguards and free from the strictures of Hollywood's most watered-down if enduring formula.
(Released by Warner Bros. and rated "PG-13" for sexual content and brief nudity.)