Liberty for None

Mandy Moore's likable enough; wish we could say the same about her movie

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 20s who looks like 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 the president to another starring Sinbad as a government agent – and which is which is of no concern, is it? – there's little 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 Libertywill hit HBO before Election Day; already, I hear, it's screening on Air Force One and European-bound commercial flights.

But those of us interested (by which I mean barelyinterested, though compelled to feign curiosity in order to draw a paycheck) in the doings of pop culture's B-listers could ponder just what Chasing Libertymeans 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 to take seriously glib Hollywood product that exists solely to provide its stars all-expenses-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 have also made it a vow to finish by year's end my science project, which proves that if combined into a single person, Jessica Simpson, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Mandy Moore might have some real talent.

Simpson's 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 is, of course, touring the country's strip clubs; she brings her own music and copies of Esquire and Rolling Stone, upon whose covers she appears nude, to sign for $20 a pop, table dance included. Moore, on the other hand, is the square in the bunch: Her movies are aimed at the crowd that thought Footloosetoo heretical; her music, as evidenced by her last album, 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 Storyscored 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 Moore's born-again work; think of it as her born-to-be-wild career move, if only because the 18-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 20s, 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 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.

 
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