Film Reviews

Chasing Mandy

There are two options when discussing Chasing Liberty, in which pop-star-turned-actress Mandy Moore plays a president's daughter named Anna Foster who wants some alone time, sans Secret Service, to go clubbing in Europe, hang with friends and lose her 18-year-old virginity to a Brit in his twenties who resembles the offspring of Hugh Grant and Alan Cumming (which, if you think about it, could happen). You could, of course, dismiss it altogether, since it does seem to resemble a certain 1996 movie called First Kid, in which a 13-year-old president's son tries to ditch his Secret Service detail so he can fit in among his pals at prep school. Whenever you can compare one movie starring Mark Harmon as president to another starring Sinbad as government agent -- and which is which is of no concern, is it? -- there's really not much need to march on. All life force drains as one considers the possibility that not only are there no good new ideas, but there were never any good old ones to begin with. Odds are Chasing Liberty will hit HBO before Election Day; already, I hear, they're showing it on Air Force One and European-bound commercial flights.

But those of us interested in the doings of pop culture's B-listers could ponder just what Chasing Liberty means in the career evolution of one Mandy Moore. Granted, this is a thin idea for fleshing out a full-length review of a movie written in outline form, but bear with me; 'tis the new year, and among my resolutions is taking seriously the glib Hollywood product that exists solely to provide its stars all-expense-paid trips to Prague, Venice and Berlin, among the myriad settings of Chasing Liberty, which appears to have been underwritten by the Travel Channel. I also have made it a vow to finish, by year's end, my science project that proves that if combined into a single person, Jessica Simpson, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Mandy Moore might have some real talent.

Simpson is currently knockin' 'em brain-dead on MTV; she's proof enough that if you attended school for a single day in hopes of striking it rich, you wasted too much time. Aguilera is well on her way to becoming the post-teen-pop Cher, while Spears has, of course, appeared semi-nude on the covers of Esquire and Rolling Stone. Moore, on the other hand, is the square in the bunch: Her movies are aimed at the crowd that thought Footloose too heretical; her music, as evidenced by last album's Coverage, is aimed at a nonexistent audience that believes XTC, Joe Jackson, Elton John and Todd Rundgren in the original form were too challenging.

She appeared two years ago in A Walk to Remember, in which she played the good girl (then, the good-and-dead girl) who converted Shane West from Missy Elliott to Jesus; imagine Love Story scored by Petra. Next up for Moore is Saved, in which a girl at a Southern Baptist high school gets pregnant and is ostracized by her pals; says producer Michael Stipe, "It's like those monster vampire high school kind of movies, only here the monsters are Jesus-freak teenagers." Chasing Liberty, directed by a TV guy making his big-screen debut and written by two first-timers, serves as a kind of bridge between her born-again work; think of it as her born-to-be-wild career move, if only because the 19-year-old gets drunk, begs Brit Ben Calder (a secret Secret Service agent played by Matthew Goode, who is, actually) to take her virginity and appears topless twice -- though she is seen only from behind, which will no doubt frustrate fathers taking their 13-year-old daughters to the cineplex. This is what publicists refer to as moving into an actor's "mature phase."

Moore is immensely likable; she certainly seems more flesh-and-blood than her plasticine contemporaries, who appear to have fallen off the same assembly line that made those Chucky dolls. And she has the right intentions: You can't be a teen-pop sensation in your twenties, especially after your audience has started sneaking out of the house to "date" college seniors. Chasing Liberty plays like thinly veiled autobiography. Anna's rich and wants to grow up; Mandy's rich and wants to grow up, but it's really only intriguing if you're writing the Mandy Moore episode of E! True Hollywood Story or if you want to visit glamorous European locales without actually leaving your own zip code. At some point, I stopped caring about the Anna-Ben plot and started wondering which screenwriter thought the Italian-American Annabella Sciorra's character should be called "Morales" and whether Jeremy Piven, playing her partner, was going to let his hairpiece loose in the wild, where it could easily fend for itself.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky