ZERO STARS/**** Image A- Sound A Extras C
starring Mandy Moore, Matthew Goode, Jeremy Piven, Annabella Sciorra
screenplay by Derek Guiley & David Schneiderman
directed by Andy Cadiff
by Walter Chaw Giving a whole new meaning to the term "Grand Old Party," now that Jenna and Barbara Bush have made being the first daughter delinquent-delightful again after that stick-in-the-mud scholar/ambassador Chelsea (the "Family Values" party has a little 'splainin' to do), gird yourself for no fewer than three films featuring the exploits of the most powerful girl-child in the free world: David Mamet's Spartan, the Katie Holmes starrer First Daughter, and, first out of the block, Andy Cadiff's execrable Chasing Liberty.
The annual edition of Bad Judgment Theater featuring everyone's favourite holier-than-thou teen Mandy Moore, Chasing Liberty finds Moore, as first daughter Anna, hitching a ride from a stranger, hitching a ride from a trio of unkempt sheep herders, desperately throwing herself at strange men in the hopes of losing her virginity, and generally acting in a way that isn't so much liberated as it is dangerously reckless. After letting a best pal do the suffering for her choices in last year's abomination How to Deal (that one also resembling a horror film for no good reason), Moore repents by making all her own horrendous miscues but still somehow manages to avoid any consequences for her stunning misdeeds. Quite the example Moore's setting here: act like a self-centered, self-destructive moron, be rewarded with true love and a full ride to Harvard.
Anna's in Prague with her dad, Mr. President (Mark Harmon), a warden so overprotective that a cadre of Secret Service agents hovers around Anna's every moment like a cloud of dedicated civil servants. Hoping for a night out with her French pal Gabrielle (Béatrice Rosenblatt), who intimates to the President that her tongue piercing's sole purpose is to give the men she fellates greater pleasure, Anna bargains for a retinue of just two agents, squabbling Weiss (Jeremy Piven) and Morales (Annabella Sciorra, gorgeous). Spotting additional G-men at a concert filmed in the seediest possible way, Anna decides to flee on the back of Ben Calder's (Matthew Goode, dreamy) scooter because, hey, guys hanging around outside seedy Czech nightclubs can't be all bad, non? That they later rendezvous--post-skinny dip--at a bar called The Marquis de Sade (where Anna promptly gets fall-down shit-faced) is one of those things that speaks for itself.
Harmon delivers a performance every bit as awkward as his deliberate stranger while demonstrating a worrisome propensity on the heels of Freaky Friday for taking thankless roles in bad teen movies. With Moore shrill in her inimitable way ("Naked virgin, safely under the covers" never sounded so not intriguing), only Goode, in a TIGER BEAT pin-up breakthrough role, makes an impression as a younger, more virile Hugh Grant. Career TV director Cadiff's direction (his previous screen credit is for 1997's weird Leave it to Beaver flick) successfully makes Chasing Liberty look like that special episode of "The Facts of Life" where the girls go to Paris.
It's difficult to imagine first why anyone still favours Moore's breathy, huffy performing style, then how anyone could have thought that Chasing Liberty was a wise idea. A nothing premise padded beyond recognition by a campfire scene, a bungee jumping scene, and, of course, the musical montage and winsome flashback, the picture only ever surprises by the lengths to which it goes to justify a young girl's stunningly poor judgment and unforgivable acting out as just stretching her wings. (Best not even to wonder how much taxpayer money Anna's just blown in her quest to get laid. (How much does emergency helicopter rides, blanket surveillance, panicked wide-scale searches, and a team of highly trained government agents working on foreign soil cost nowadays, anyhow?)) If you're keeping teensploitation romantic comedy score: there's the pair who hate each other who end up loving each other, the dreamboat with a secret who causes a temporary break-up and a joyous reunion after musically-aided reflection, adorably childlike foreigners, and a self-pitying heroine to moon her way through a string of appalling decisions with the crazed, bulletproof air of a Lt. Col. Kilgore. I love the smell of bullshit in the morning. It smells like a Mandy Moore movie. Originally published: January 9, 2004.
by Bill Chambers Warner releases Chasing Liberty on DVD in competing widescreen and fullscreen editions. The following comments refer to the former, which presents the film in a fine anamorphic transfer letterboxed at 2.35:1. Minor banding intrudes in extreme close-ups of Moore's face during the opening credits sequence, and though not necessarily a fault of the conversion to disc, whites look solarized in shots that have received a CGI assist. A deeper range of blacks would only improve the image, but shadow detail is above par. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is unremarkable until the climactic "Love parade," a demo-worthy sequence that, with its stomach-churning bass and awesome spatiality, would seem an uncanny approximation of the real thing. Moore and Goode team up for a pathetic yak-track that really doesn't need to last the length of the feature--it's not even until two minutes in that one of them breaks the ice by saying something, and from then on we are enlightened on such matters as Beatrice Rosen's prop tongue stud. When Wal-Mart chanteuse Moore hails the decision to score her Pretty Woman montage with Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers' "American Girl" (so definitively used in The Silence of the Lambs, it should've been taken out of circulation), the urge to yell "Poser!" is overwhelming.
Also on board is "Passport to Europe," a 5-minute selection of Moore/Goode junket highlights--sorry, "travel tips" (for other rich movie stars)--grouped according to the destination under scrutiny, the options being Prague, Vienna, Berlin, and Venice, where Moore apparently rode a gondola with her future boyfriend and they shared their first kiss. Yep, it's that kind of featurette. Also on board is an unabridged performance by The Roots (4 mins.), a 9-minute block of deleted/extended scenes (in one of which Moore's character asks Goode's what he does for a living--while less-than-deftly written, its inclusion would've at least momentarily curbed Anna's self-absorption), and a 5-minute "Gag Reel" (Jeremy Piven is given ample room to improvise and can't summon a single zinger, not that Chasing Liberty is the soul of inspiration). Note that all of the video-based extras are in washed-out non-anamorphic widescreen. The film's theatrical trailer rounds out the platter. Originally published: May 26, 2004.