It is a testament to the talents of helmer Armand Mastroianni and stars Mariel Hemingway, Doug Savant, Monica Keena and Gregory Harrison, that “First Daughter” largely holds together as a taut thriller in spite of a preposterous script from writer/co-producers Chad Hayes and Carey W. Hayes. It’s “In the Line of Fire” meets “The River Wild,” backed by Australian Outback scenery and some of the most inane dialogue this side of “Jerry Springer.”
OK, so there’s this President of the United States (Harrison), right? He has just been saved from an assassination attempt by Alex McGregor (Hemingway), the most buff Secret Service agent in federal annals. Some people pump iron. McGregor pumps large kitchen appliances.
Impressed by his sinewy protector, the Prez reassigns McGregor to a full-time detail guarding his sniveling teenage daughter Jess (“Dawson’s Creek’s” Keena). Neither agent nor offspring is much thrilled by this arrangement. McGregor thinks Jess is a spoiled twit; Jess thinks McGregor is gay. Then again, so does everybody else. It will straightaway become a central focus of “First Daughter.”
So anyway, President Airhead decides that the best thing for his little girl to do in the wake of an attempt on his life is to head off on a hiking trip into the middle of militia country. Yeah, that’s a good idea. Just that quick, Jess, McGregor and their group (including a river guide played by Doug Savant) are under attack by a wacko American militia group sporting dirty faces and tattoos. (Though the vidpic was filmed Down Under, it is presumably set in America.)
And in the confusion, Jess gets kidnapped and held in exchange for an imprisoned militia nut case.
It’s right around here that the guilt-riddled McGregor turns heroic, both on land and sea. And still, the questions come: is she a lesbian? Maybe they’re making that assumption because there are lingering questions from “Personal Best”? The gay question actually fills entire pages of script and never goes anywhere, weakening some of the film’s considerable suspense quotient.
Luckily, Mastroianni’s deft directorial touches keeps the action at a fever pitch even as the script flails around to find its focus. Too, Hemingway and Savant in particular never allow the intensity to waver. Coupled with slick photography from Mark Wareham and his team, “First Daughter” does a fairly convincing imitation of a genuine nail-biter.
In truth, the film would work even better if not for the fact that all of this risking of life is designed to rescue such a petulant basket case.
Tech credits are first-rate.