If the kids from 7th Heaven were real, they'd be allowed to see this movie." So spake my roommate Jared on the appeal of the latest teen romance, Chasing Liberty. The subject: mildly entertaining, inoffensive pap. This particular pap, which is indeed inoffensive and mildly entertaining, headlines pop star Mandy Moore. Moore's musical career is as light and breezy and insubstantial as her work in film, and certainly her flimsy but appealing talent could stand a little extra support if she's going to become big.
Moore is Anna Foster, daughter to the president of the United States. Behind all the Secret Service agents and privileged upbringing, Anna is just like any other full-blooded American teen-ager only most American teens don't have their dates interrupted by a storm of government agents the moment danger seems possible. (Friends of a suitor are roughed by guards when one reaches into his jacket for a camera, not a gun as they suspect.)
When an official visit to Prague offers the opportunity to let loose a little, President Dad (Mark Harmon) relents and allows Anna to accompany the wild daughter of the French ambassador to a concert with minimal security. But Dad breaks his promise (the one presidential thing his character does in this film) and sends in a full battalion. Anna manages to wriggle free long enough to hop on the back of a handsome stranger's motorcycle and speed away, not knowing that the handsome stranger (Matthew Goode) is also an agent, Ben Calder. Knowing this, the prez decides to give his daughter a little controlled freedom and let her think she's rebelling her way across Europe with a mysterious hunk, when she's really on a chaperoned vacation.
Along the way, Anna and Ben encounter a small handful of mild zanies (including an Austrian beefcake named Gus Gus and a funny Italian mama-mia who scolds her gondolier son for bringing the couple home but then welcomes them when she thinks they are newlyweds) and one big zany: McGruff. McGruff (Martin Hancock) is not the dog detective who will take a bite out of crime but a bizarro, eccentric Brit with a strange face, spastic demeanor, and a life mission to distribute decals portraying the Six Million Dollar Man. He also picks pockets. McGruff is a kind of enigma in this film. He is the comic relief injected halfway through a mostly unfunny romantic comedy and, despite picking the pockets of the first daughter and her bodyguard, is quickly forgiven and embraced again by both. That wacky McGruff! Nice guy, just don't let him near your purse.
I guess someone on the script committee realized as the film was being shot: "Hey, guys! Any of you notice that after the first half hour, but before the last 15 minutes, this sucker has no plot? Um, any ideas?" And then someone else invariably chimed: "How about a very strange, dirty British train passenger who distributes decals with the Six Million Dollar Man on them and who picks pockets and likes to go on montage-ready shopping sprees?" The committee: "Hmmmmmmm, but what to name him?" Meanwhile, a nearby TV set plays a commercial for crime prevention.
As one might guess from the film's status as a mild romantic comedy, hearts flutter between Anna and her agent-gentleman. It is not long before her troublesome American charm wins over his coolish Brit aloofness, and Ben is soon torn between his duty as Anna's protector and as the studly British secret agent who wants to shag her. This makes for some interestingly tense moments, since there is always that big secret between them: She wants him to think that she's just some normal, rebellious, nonpresidential teen, and he wants her to think I dunno, really. We don't get to know him very well in this film. Ho hum.
Going to Chasing Liberty in a bad mood wasn't a grand idea, nor was lamenting that better films weren't opening as the trailers for similarly insipid teen comedies scrolled by before the movie's start. But I guess I'm kind of disappointed in a romantic comedy that isn't very funny, wastes B-grade but fine talent like Harmon, Caroline Goodall (as the first lady), and the bumbling duo of Annabella Sciorra and Jeremy Piven as flirty agents, and then uses the "L" word to describe a weekend's worth of romantic antics based solely on attraction and not a bit on any kind of real intimacy. I tend to look at deep thoughts in shallow wells as a trend, but if these movies are among the first cinematic role models that teen girls have for romance and love, aren't we all a little bit in trouble?