LESS THAN halfway through a screening of "First Daughter" -- an anemic romantic comedy about a U.S. president's daughter (Katie Holmes) who wants to lead a normal life -- a friend of mine in the film-crit biz turned to me and whispered her recommendation that I sneak out and watch "Shaun of the Dead" instead (see review on Page 45), which, as it happens, was also having a press screening just down the hall. Tempted as I was, professional ethics prevented me from taking advantage of this option, although every additional minute I stayed in my seat convinced me that I had seen "First Daughter" somewhere before.
In fact, I had.
So have you, if you were one of the few who saw "Chasing Liberty," another romantic comedy about a U.S. president's daughter (Mandy Moore) who wants to lead a normal life. A few minor plot details may be different, but the movies are virtually identical, except, of course, for one big fact: "Chasing Liberty" wasn't a steaming pile of offal.
Yes, I know "Liberty" wasn't that well received by the critics, and I was probably the only male reviewer over the age of 16 who halfway liked it. Still, go back and watch it now after you've seen "First Daughter," and you'll see all the mistakes it avoided.
Not so much written as extruded from a script-o-matic machine (although the screenplay is actually credited to Jessica Bendinger and Kate Kondell), "First Daughter" is simply one hackneyed, inauthentic, predictable scene after another -- even if you haven't seen "Liberty." Taking place during first daughter Samantha Mackenzie's (Holmes) freshman year at college, where her conservative old man (Michael Keaton, needing not a shot of "Beetle Juice" but prune juice) has her tailed night and day by a phalanx of Secret Service agents, "Daughter" quickly has Samantha slipping away from her overprotective protectors into the hunky arms of her dorm's resident adviser, James (Marc Blucas). And if you can't figure out the stunning plot twist for yourself at this point, far be it from me to ruin it for you.
I'll leave that to the movie.
I didn't buy one thing about this film. Not Samantha and her father's touching ritual of a shared midnight snack and a waltz in the White House kitchen before she leaves for school; not her "Sound of Music"-style twirling around the new dorm room; not the formulaic tension with her sassy African American roommate (Amerie); not the joke about overprotective Secret Service agents taking down a frat boy with a water pistol; and not Holmes's crocodile tears when James ultimately turns out not to be who he says he is.
Oops! I may have said too much already.
Not because I've spoiled the ending. It's just that the movie -- much like James, who says to Samantha, on one of their early dates, "Trust me, I'm not that interesting" -- isn't worth the time it takes to get to know it.
Trust me, you already do.
FIRST DAUGHTER (PG, 104 minutes) -- Contains a relatively mild vulgarity, underage drinking and brief sexual allusions. Area theaters.