Chasing Liberty (United States, 2004)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Chasing Liberty is a fairly standard-issue teen romantic comedy. Its primary intent is to follow the accepted rules, and what at first seems to be an intriguing premise turns into something more formulaic than some might hope. On the other hand, for those who like cute boy-meets-girl stories and are in the mood for some light, unpretentious romance, Chasing Liberty catches its prey. For what it is, it works.

In addition to being the year's first romantic comedy (the designation may be a misnomer, since very little about Chasing Liberty is intended to be funny), this film is also a Mandy Moore vehicle. Moore is an interesting individual. She's attractive and has an undeniable screen presence. But her acting talent is raw. She can do cute and sprightly with no problem, but, when the script requires that she show deeper emotions, she runs into trouble. Fortunately, Chasing Liberty keeps those moments to a minimum. Moore is no Natalie Portman or Christina Ricci, but she's light years ahead of other singer-turned-actress wannabes like Britney Spears and Beyonce Knowles.

Chasing Liberty starts at a more elevated level than the typical teen romance. Anna Foster (Moore) is not an average 18-year old girl dealing with baby fat, zits, and raging hormones. She's the daughter of second-term President James Foster (Mark Harmon), and has spent her entire teenage life in the White House, surrounded by her father's political cronies and the ever-present Secret Service. She craves privacy and normalcy - two things that are denied to her because of her father's vocation. Early in the movie, as director Andy Cadiff (a veteran TV director of more than 20 years and two-dozen shows, plus the feature film Leave it to Beaver) explores this kind of life (Anna seems part Chelsea Clinton and part Bush twins), there are some interesting moments. But, as movies of this sort are wont to do, Chasing Liberty quickly distances itself from the real world by establishing itself as a modern-day fairy tale.

Anna runs away from home - sort of. While attending a chaperoned concert in Prague, she momentarily escapes from her "captors" with the help of a dashing British chap named Ben Calder (Matthew Goode). It turns out that Ben is actually a Secret Service agent incognito, only Anna doesn't know that. She thinks he's just a good-looking guy she ran into by accident. The President concocts a scheme that will let Anna experience rebellion without being in any real danger. He orders Ben to keep his identity secret and to stay with Anna, and brings in two other agents - Weiss (Jeremy Piven) and Morales (Annabella Sciorra) - to keep tabs on her. The trip goes from the streets of Prague to the canals of Venice to the roads of Austria before ending up in Berlin. Along the way, Ben and Anna alternately spar with, confide in, and make calf eyes at each other. Of course, by the end of the road, they are passionately in love.

Although Chasing Liberty is at heart a romance, it's also a road movie, which is its least endearing characteristic. The exotic locales inject a little interest, but this is essentially two characters traveling from point A to point B. There's little freshness or originality in the "colorful" individuals they meet on their journey. These include a sticky-fingered hippie named McGruff (Martin Hancock), a friendly gondolier (Joseph Long), and his good-hearted mother (Miriam Margolyes). We've encountered these people, or at least those who are similar, in countless other road movies.

It's hard to fault Chasing Liberty for following the formula, since that's its goal from the beginning. It's looking to please a certain audience, and going too far afield might miss the target. The accessory romance between Weiss and Morales could have been excised, since neither character is developed enough for it to matter. Their interaction has the rhythm and screen time of something deleted from Love, Actually. But, aside from padding the running length by about 10 minutes, it's not a serious fault. The film avoids the painful pitfall of putting Anna's life in danger. Moore and Goode generate just enough heat and the requisite number of sparks. The sex scenes are suitably tame and the only nudity is of Anna skinnydipping, from behind and in the dark (and not Moore at all - clearly a body-double). The script is laced with innuendo, but nothing is raunchy, and there's almost no profanity, making this friendly to younger teens. Chasing Liberty is not daring or adventurous, but, considering its release date (early January), it's more palatable than one might anticipate.

Chasing Liberty (United States, 2004)

Run Time: 1:48
U.S. Release Date: 2004-01-09
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Sexual Content, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1