The third film in as many years to topline singing sensation Mandy Moore, “Chasing Liberty” is a teenybopper “Roman Holiday.” It’s the first of two competing studio pics originally titled “First Daughter,” both scheduled for the same release date and both springing from the exact same premise. (The other project, from Fox, still titled “First Daughter,” was bumped to release later this year.) Inoffensive adolescent escapism laced with surprising amounts of genuine charm, pic should hold its own in the barren field of high-profile January releases, posting mid-range numbers closer to Moore’s 2002 hit “A Walk to Remember” than her 2003 underperformer “How to Deal.”
Featuring Mark Harmon and Caroline Goodall as a president and first lady decidedly more Bill-and-Hillary than George-and-Laura, “Chasing Liberty” centers around an age-old parent-child quandary: How to strike an appropriate balance between the self-reliance young adults seek and the protection parents still feel obliged to provide them.
Eighteen-year-old Anna (Moore) is constantly followed by a throng of Secret Service agents and recognized everywhere she goes by hordes of adoring fans. And although she does a pretty good job of handling the pressure, she longs for a romantic evening with a boyfriend sans security or fans.
When a G8 summit in Prague occasions something resembling a family vacation, Anna begs her dad to allow her, while in Europe, to attend the Berlin Love Parade with her friend, the French ambassador’s tongue-pierced daughter, Gabrielle (spunky Beatrice Rosen). But when that proposal fails, she and Gabrielle begin planning Anna’s escape.
In the crowded bathroom of a hot, loud Prague nightclub, the two swap Anna’s clothes with those belonging to a passed-out drunk and give the slip to the agents. Anna disappears into the night on the back of a Vespa driven by a dashing knight-in-leather jacket who just happens to be standing at the club’s entrance.
Though Anna’s savior, Ben (Matthew Goode), introduces himself as a photographer traveling through Europe, it’s revealed to viewers quite early on that he is in fact a British-based field agent for the Secret Service.
Of course, Ben has been assigned to secretly look after Anna, and just in case things go awry — as they inevitably do — the president also assigns two of Anna’s regular protectors, the bickering Weiss (Jeremy Piven) and Morales (Annabella Sciorra), to keep their eyes on Ben.
When Anna and Ben accidentally board the wrong train for Berlin (while Weiss and Morales board the correct one), “Chasing Liberty” morphs into a travelogue of Western Europe, with stops in Italy, Austria and Germany, allowing Ben ample time to really fall for Anna. It’s all very familiar stuff, courtesy of tyro screenwriters Derek Guiley and David Schneiderman, who claim to have been inspired by seeing Chelsea Clinton hounded by the media while attending a Stanford basketball game (though surely, some credit is also due Irving Berlin, who dramatized a not-dissimilar dilemma in the song “The Secret Service Makes Me Nervous,” from his 1962 musical “Mr. President”).
But the movie works, despite overstaying its welcome by about 20 minutes, largely because of the chemistry between the naturally charismatic Moore and the effortlessly debonair Goode, making his bigscreen debut in a role Sean Connery might have played in his 20s. Though Piven and Sciorra lend generous support, their patter has a decidedly scripted, rehearsed feel to it.
Like the recent “Freaky Friday,” pic also manages to maintain an appealingly even-keel temperament, sympathizing with the frustrations of both parents and children. Of course, it’s also a movie in which the worst potential horrors awaiting an 18-year-old girl traveling unaccompanied through Europe are comical pickpockets and daredevil bungee-jumpers.
On the other hand, though it may give some parents pause, the movie is decidedly more honest in its depiction of teen consumption of alcohol — particularly overseas, where the legal drinking ages are lower — than most American teen pics, where the characters are either cookie-cutter straight or raging delinquents.
Pic gets a huge boost from its location shooting throughout Europe, particularly in Prague, which so often (due to low shooting costs) doubles for other Euro cities, but which here beautifully plays itself. Second-time feature director Andy Cadiff (who previously helmed the “Leave It to Beaver” movie after a long background in TV directing) does a serviceable, professional job that lacks the overall energy or imagination that might have further distinguished the film.
Kudos, however, to music supervisors Maggie Rodford and Jon Leshay, for breaking up the soundtrack’s boy-band monotony with a little Offenbach.