With COVID resurgence meaning that only the naughty are likely to risk large gatherings this holiday season, there will be even more reliance on home-viewing comfort food in the vein of “The Princess Switch: Switched Again.” Bringing back the same director, writers and lead actors from Netflix’s original 2018 success, this pleasant sequel provides the updated “Prince and the Pauper” conceit a new wrinkle in giving star Vanessa Hudgens yet a third lookalike character to play.
Though inevitably the formula wears a little thinner in spots this time, it’s a frothy fantasy that should satisfy viewers’ itch for confectionary-looking Christmas fluff. Netflix premieres the feature worldwide Nov. 19, and it should provide them with a year-end programming staple for some time to come.
As erstwhile Chicago baker Stacy (Hudgens) reminds us in opening-credits voiceover, when last seen she’d wound up a princess by catching the eye of Prince Edward (Sam Palladio) while visiting fictive kingdom Belgravia for a culinary contest. Her hunky coworker Kevin (Nick Sagar) also sparked with Lady Margaret of neighboring Montenaro, who was affianced to Edward for political rather than true-love purposes. Arriving at the correct pair-off naturally required the two doppelganger women to temporarily exchange identities, with Margaret briefly getting the anonymity she craved and Tracy sampling the luxe aristocratic life.
Two years later, Tracy and Edward are happily married, if a bit harried by royal responsibilities. But “things didn’t work out” between Margaret and Kevin, largely because her father’s death and other unforeseen circumstances are now forcing her to assume Montenaro’s throne. This is not the kind of movie in which historic tradition and affairs of state can prevail over romance with a commoner, however. So Tracy revisits Chicago to coerce still-pining Kevin and his precocious daughter Olivia (Mia Lloyd, replacing the original’s Aleve Adeosun) into attending Margaret’s coronation.
Upon arrival, everyone schemes to reunite the barely-parted lovebirds. This of course will require another secret “switch” — one further complicated by the meddling of Margaret’s cousin Fiona (Hudgens again, with long blonde wig and engorged lips), a junior Cruella De Vil for the Kardashian era who’s already blown through her considerable inheritance. Ergo she and her “minions” (Florence Hall, Ricky Norwood) hatch a plot to kidnap Margaret long enough to steal her crown and fortune. After a fashion, they’re aided by that unsuspecting lady’s smirking chief of staff Antonio (Lachlan Nieboer), a less-trustworthy rival suitor to Kevin. Needless to say, as three women run around pretending to be one another amid treasonous intrigue, things get a little hectic.
With prolific small-screen director Mike Rohl as well as scribes Robin Bernheim Burger and Megan Metzger back on board, “Switched Again” doesn’t feel like too desultory a knock-off even as it goes through fairly stock romantic comedy paces. Naturally, this is the sort of enterprise that maintains its disposably light tenor by introducing plot complications that are barely real “problems” at all — both couples in question have no more serious issues than having been “too busy” to sit down, talk and confirm they’re perfect for each other. (Nervous about living up to princess-dom, Tracy has neglected her politely horny husband without even realizing it.) Considering that the script eventually gestures toward thriller mechanics, with Tracy-as-Margaret held captive, there’s not much action here beyond a climactic spurt of slapstick.
But those shortfalls don’t matter much, since “Switched Again” isn’t really about suspense, romantic troubles or even identity swapping. Instead, what it’s selling is Yuletide (and princess) lifestyle cheesecake: A sumptuous spread of sugar-plum sights in which every fairy-tale exterior (this time shot in Scotland rather than Romania) and handsome interior comes gift-wrapped for Christmas. Even the public bathroom from which Tracy gets abducted is decorated to resemble one big festive wreath. A wee kitschy but never quite garish, the film’s look is a high-caloric treat, with equal thanks due to production designer Pat Campbell, DP Fernando Arguelles Fernandez, and the costumes by Johnetta Boone and Francisco Rodriguez-Weil. Rohl’s pacing keeps all this eye candy from clogging the arteries, as does the expected various-artists selection of holiday rock ’n’ pop soundtracked.
If her multiple roles aren’t exactly three-dimensional, Hudgens nonetheless does a nice job keeping them distinct, clearly relishing the spoiled-brat caricature of new arrival Fiona. Other cast members hit their marks with the requisite good looks and sufficient aplomb. Though there aren’t as many moments of cringey on-the-nose dialogue here as one might expect, you still must admire the training that enables an actor (in this case Nieboer) to speak a line like “You’re not just about to become the queen of Montenara, you’ve also become the queen of my heart!” without seeming a total fool.