Title: Chasing Liberty
Play time: 1h 51min
Director: Andy Cadiff
Screenwriters: Derek Guiley
Starring: Mandy Moore, Matthew Goode, Mark Harmon, Caroline Goodall
“I have this theory about parents: they want you to appreciate the good things in life, but not do them.”
Chasing Liberty, Typical Blatant Hollywood Work
It’s amusing, horrifying, and hideously fascinating how Hollywood movies come in pairs. In 1998, we had two computer-animated movies about insects, that same year there were two disaster epics about celestial objects hurtling toward Earth. Two years later, two studios released movies about bad things happening on the planet Mars. This astonishes me. I’m aware that Hollywood likes to cannibalize itself and steal its own ideas, but that’s just uncanny — and ridiculous. At the very least, one would think that one of the companies responsible for developing each member of the pairs would think to delay production and put some room between their film and its doppelganger. But then again, what do I know? The bug and asteroid movies all did well, and both of the Mars flicks bombed. Maybe this idea of blatant repetition is an illusion unique to those of us who see basically everything, and the average moviegoer doesn’t even notice.
Certainly that’s the hope of Warner Bros. and Fox, each of whom is releasing a First Daughter-themed romantic comedy in 2004. Not only will each film involve the female offspring of the President of the United States, but evidently they both have the same exact plot, wherein the Daughter, seeking more freedom and less fame, falls in love with a secret service agent posing as a civilian. WB is first out of the gate with Chasing Liberty (Fox seems to have won the battle for the more obvious title, First Daughter), and… well, it’s dreadful. Just terrible. Perfect January material. In 2003, I began the year with Kangaroo Jack; now this, and with no more Lord of the Rings to look forward to.
Mandy Moore Comes as Underdog in Chasing Liberty
Mandy Moore, an unheralded talent, plays the presidential yet spunky teenager named Anna Foster (for a while I was afraid that the character was in fact named Liberty, in which case I might have walked out). In the opening scenes, she goes out on a date and is, unbeknownst to her, followed by a battalion of Secret Service agents. When an innocent restaurant-goer reaches into his front pocket to pull out a camera, the agents swarm, the frightened date bows out, and Anna is furious — but offers to forgive her dad (Mark Harmon) his perceived transgression if, on their upcoming trip to Prague, he will let her go out without anyone on her tail. Eventually, they compromise — two agents. Just two. No more than two. He swears.
He breaks his promise, and Anna, in a fit of righteous rebellion, runs off with a stranger on a motorcycle. His name is Ben (Matthew Goode), and he seems willing to drive her where she wants to go and accompany her on various adventures — including, possibly, a trip to the Festival of Love in Berlin. Actually, he’s the Secret Service’s youngest operative, and he’s not sure what to do until President Foster, in what may be the dumbest idea of all time, decides to have him conceal his identity for the long-term, in order to give Anna some “controlled freedom.” I wonder if this will backfire.
The Standard Romantic Comedy Fluff
As expected, Chasing Liberty is standard-issue romantic comedy fluff, its soundtrack overstuffed with alt-rock ditties, its plot crawling toward the inevitable “it was all a bet/a trick/a lie/an elaborate ruse, but in the process I fell in love with you for real” confrontation, occasionally interrupted by the characters doing something “daring,” such as bungee jumping or, that old standby, skinny dipping, because that’s romantic and will turn them into free spirits. But those standard elements, barely tolerable in their ideal incarnation, aren’t even functional here. Mandy Moore is still effortless, luminous and natural, true, but Matthew Goode is criminally charmless, all of the supporting characters are idiots (the great Miriam Margolyes is denigrated to an offensive degree), and the subplot about the relationship between two Secret Service agents on the trail of Ben and Anna (Jeremy Piven and Annabella Sciorra) is blatant, unwatchable filler.
The proceedings were actually almost interesting while the script let Ben keep his dignity and dutifully refrain from hopping into bed with the sexually frustrated First Daughter, and I was hopeful that the film would continue down that path. It doesn’t, slogging off instead on its predictable and idiotic path. Mandy Moore won’t get too far if she keeps picking projects like this. Read the script.