- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 7, 2004

“Like, last week was so embarrassing. I’m on this date with a total hottie when Daddy’s Secret

Service barge in and ruin everything. I could die.”

Casting a boy-crazed teen as the first daughter sounds appropriately high-concept enough to inspire a movie such as “Chasing Liberty.”

So high-concept, in fact, that the upcoming “First Daughter,” starring Katie Holmes and Michael Keaton, taps frighteningly similar motifs.

“Liberty” stars Mandy Moore, better known these days for her acting than her puffy pop warbling.

That “Liberty” doesn’t fully exploit its comic potential is hardly surprising. The target audience won’t skip away grousing about missed opportunities or forced banter — they’ll be too busy chattering about how Miss Moore’s hair color seems to change in every scene.

“Liberty” follows 18-year-old Anna Foster (Miss Moore), code name “Liberty,” as she juggles her daughterly duties with her budding free spirit. Dating is never easy, but when your beau is flanked by undercover agents at all times, it gets a wee bit stickier. Anna finds that out in the opening moments, when her date is interrupted by a swarm of agents who think her companion’s friend is wielding a weapon.

She yearns for some personal space, and she just might get some during a diplomatic jaunt to Prague. Anna wangles a promise out of her father (Mark Harmon, proving fatherly if not quite presidential) not to meddle for just this once. Instead, she meets cute with an undercover agent (newcomer Matthew Goode) her father sneakily assigns to protect her and runs away.

Of course, his icy facade will melt soon enough, as he falls for her stubbornness and her oh-so-American pluck. Can he remain undercover while chasing her all over Europe, and what will happen when she inevitably finds out the truth?

Miss Moore’s character seems a bit flighty for someone who’s grown up in the political limelight, but the no-nonsense Miss Moore grounds Anna just enough to compensate for the script’s miscalculation.

The young actress might not sell nearly the amount of discs her saucy peers sell, but she can be delightful onscreen, only a few pegs below a bona fide star.

The film’s saving grace is not Miss Moore, however, but newcomer Matthew Goode — think a young Rupert Everett with Hugh Grant’s rumpled grace. Mr. Goode’s a perfect comic foil for the headstrong American, giving “Liberty” just enough juice to overcome its teen-romance shortcomings.

It doesn’t hurt that parts of “Liberty” are set in Italy, England and Germany, giving the modest romance some sumptuous backdrops.

Jeremy Piven, often seen palling around with John Cusack on-screen, submits a cheeky performance as Alan, a fumbling Secret Service agent pining for fellow agent Cynthia (Annabella Sciorra).

We get two romances for the price of one, and since neither is of the “Gone with the Wind” magnitude, the multiplication factor surely helps.

The ending of “Chasing Liberty” is never in doubt, but the film could be seen as the beginning of Mr. Goode’s career as well as another step in Miss Moore’s ascent to the teen-acting throne.

** 1/2

WHAT: “Chasing Liberty”

RATING: PG-13 (Sexual situations, alcohol use and brief nudity)

CREDITS: Directed by Andy Cadiff. Written by Derek Guiley and David Schneiderman. Produced by David Parfitt, Broderick Johnson and Andrew A. Kosove. Director of photography is Ashley Rowe.

RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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