This review was updated on March 18, 2005.
Slap a sequined tutu on an English bulldog and you’ll probably get the breathless attention of the ice-skating audience; its hunger for the sport seems insatiable. So, the vastly predictable “Ice Princess” will have no problem triple-jumping its way into the hearts of millions, even if it has a lot more in common with well-dressed bulldogs than with Torvill and Dean.
A sports movie and an ugly ducking story, “Ice Princess” is about dreams. Some are in the hearts of the movie’s talented young girls, wistfully imagining an escape route from their ambitious mothers; some will be in the hearts of audiences, imagining something more gracefully choreographed.
Casey Carlyle (Michelle Trachtenberg) is a high school science whiz and wannabe Harvard-ite whose proposed scholarship project will study the physics of skating: What makes a triple axel? What puts the lift in the lutz? In pursuing her academic extra credit, she discovers not only a way to improve the performances of her haughty classmates/skating champs, but her own affinity for the sport. The question: Harvard? Or “Holiday on Ice”?
The tropes are many and familiar: High school blondes (such as Hayden Panettiere’s insufferable Gen Harwood) are witchy and/or stupid; popular boys are turned off by brains; smart girls are destined to be mousy wallflowers until something glamorous makes their hair pop out of their death-grip ponytails, and fathers are nonexistent. Neither Casey nor Gen has one. Who or where they are is never even mentioned.
Mothers, though, they have: Casey’s is unregenerate feminist and math mom Joan Carlyle (Joan Cusack), whose blind ambition to get Casey into Harvard is as fierce as her resentment of sexy little skating outfits. Gen has an even more relentless mother, Tina Harwood (Kim Cattrall), a onetime Olympic skating star and Stalinist skating coach, whom Cattrall reduces to cartoonish callousness and grating egotism.
Neither mother does much for the image of skating. Or feminism. Or motherhood. But, as with most of “Ice Princess,” that’s not the point. The point is to make Casey as much a model of pure talent and guilelessness as has ever set blade on ice.
A savvier movie (and script) might have been able to mix some grays into its black and white palette, but “Ice Princess” is a movie in which character development is an abrupt and illogical process. Gen, for instance, doesn’t gradually become a better person. She suddenly is one. When Casey erupts against her unjust treatment by mother Tina, it’s without warning, or much plausibility.
All of which would be more forgivable if director Tim Fywell compensated with graceful action on the ice for what he lacks in the story off it. No such luck. Trachtenberg (“Harriet the Spy,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) looks positively elegant in profile, moving slowly across the ice — and that’s how Fywell is forced to shoot her. And shoot her. (Four different skaters sub for Trachtenberg in the more difficult performances.)
The most sparkling aspect to “Ice Princess” is Juliana Cannarozzo, a real-life, nationally ranked skater as well as a saucy actress whose pugnacious Zooey Bloch is the abrasive threat to the careers of Casey’s three cohorts (Gen and pals Nikki and Tiffany, played by Kirsten Olson and Jocelyn Lai).
Cannarozzo not only skates like a demon, her unaffected, dead-on portrayal of a skate punk should provide her long years of work in the ice-skating movie genre — although that’s something “Ice Princess” may revive and kill at the same time.