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The first daughter on the lam 

Sometimes the serious contemplation of contemporary cinema leads one down the dark and winding path of depression and despair. The release of Chasing Liberty, a movie apparently intended as a vehicle for the alleged pop singer Mandy Moore, prompts a measure of that contemplation and certainly a good deal more than a modicum of melancholy. The motion picture engages, if in the most trivial terms, a situation roughly parallel to current history and therefore familiar to most members of its audience. However, its not quite relevant, not quite novel material proves once again the paradoxical truth that nothing is more out of date than something so recent as yesterday's newspaper.

          If popular culture, and especially in the form of so universal an art as the cinema, should naturally express, at least indirectly, some of the important concerns, issues, and events of its time, then, to borrow a notion from a film critic of the ancient period of the middle of the 20th century, no films should really be irrelevant. In their apparent desire to express some currently trendy notions and circumstances, however, the makers of Chasing Liberty succeed in producing an embarrassingly awkward and laboriously unfunny comedy purportedly based on some real and recognizable people and circumstances.

          Inspired, the filmmakers confess, by the example of Chelsea Clinton, the movie deals with a common family dilemma, with the cute difference --- our old friend high concept again --- that the family in question consists of the president of the United States, his wife, and their 18-year-old daughter. The daughter, Anna Foster (Mandy Moore), accompanies her father (Mark Harmon), and mother (Caroline Goodall) on an official trip to Europe. There, chafing under the smothering restrictions of the intrusive Secret Service, she eludes her protective agents and takes off on her own. She meets a pleasant young Englishman (Matthew Goode) who helps her escape, then accompanies her on her flight through Europe.

          That trip through several European countries provides the only visual entertainment in the film, which for much of its length constitutes a lavish travelogue. In addition to its scenes in Prague, the movie takes its protagonist to Venice, Austria, and Berlin, the real object of her quest. Eager to experience the life of a normal young woman, to enjoy the same pleasures as her peers, Moore's character wants to participate in the Berlin Love Parade, a sort of Woodstock in motion that draws thousands of hedonists from all over the world.

          As it turns out, the handsome and helpful young Brit who aides Moore's escape is also a Secret Service agent, who keeps in touch for the whole trip with another pair of agents who pursue the couple on their journey. Although the young woman discovers what she regards as a betrayal and suffers some natural disillusionment, we all know that things will work out entirely well for her and the Englishman. Just to keep the cuteness at a fever pitch, moreover, the agents he communicates with, played by Jeremy Piven and Annabella Sciorra, also fall in love along the way, providing some mildly comic moments and perhaps enough screen time to flesh out this insubstantial work.

          Aside from the general inanity of the whole picture, the essence of the work consists of its central paradox that, though based on recognizable people and situations and filmed in some equally recognizable locations, Chasing Liberty creates about as much sense of real life as some ancient and moronic television situation comedy. The dialogue and behavior of its central character reveals almost no connection to life as we know it. This 18-year-old young woman, a legal adult, overplays her innocence, acting and speaking as if she were some silly preadolescent who's never heard anything of the contemporary world.

          Entirely ignoring the evidence of reality, the filmmakers create a sort of Disney version of an American teenager, cute, naive, uninformed, all in an age of sexual awareness, contraceptive pills, designer drugs, subversive music, edgy youth-oriented TV shows, and the countless dangers that trouble so many parents in a decadent culture. Where have these guys been?

          Although the several European locations look quite pretty in their different ways, and the overhead shots of the Berlin Love Parade capture a sense of the size and frenzy of the annual event, nothing else recommends this innocuous but dreary work. The blandness of the actors, the sheer idiocy of the plot, the vacuity of its emotional moments, the stupidity of its conception, the cheap falsehood of its subjects combine to underline the fact that the film really should never have been made. Despite its vague origin in real people and events, Chasing Liberty indeed achieves something surprisingly rare and special as an utterly meaningless, forgettable, and thoroughly irrelevant motion picture.

Chasing Liberty, starring Mandy Moore, Matthew Goode, Jeremy Piven, Annabella Sciorra, Caroline Goodall, Mark Harmon, Beatrice Rosen, Martin Hancock, Adrian Bouchet; written by Derek Guiley and David Schneiderman; directed by Andy Cadiff. Cinemark Tinseltown; Hoyts Greece Ridge; Loews Webster; Regal Culver Ridge; Regal Eastview; Regal Henrietta.

You can hear George and his movie reviews on WXXI-FM 91.5 Fridays at 7:20 a.m., rerun on Saturdays at 8:50 a.m.

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