If you’re going to remake “Roman Holiday,” you really need to do it with Audrey Hepburn playing the princess who spends a few days disguised as a commoner. No substitutes please.
Well, at least we can’t think of one. Jennifer Love Hewitt and Julia Ormond have tried doing Hepburn, but does anyone want to discuss the results?
Mandy Moore puts on the crown in “Chasing Liberty,” and alas, it doesn’t fit at all. But then the rest of the movie lacks the necessary magic as well. It’s a dim, unofficial variation on a bittersweet romantic classic — which means, of course, that the bitter has been surgically removed and the sweet suffocatingly sweetened.
Also modified is the status of the central character. She’s no longer a bored European princess but Anna Foster, the free-spirited daughter of a popular if astonishingly bland U.S. President (Mark Harmon switching to auto-pilot in a thankless role). He keeps her on a short leash and uses the Secret Service to spy on her when the family visits Prague, Venice and Berlin.
‘Goode’ work from a young actor
The only substitute casting that even begins to click is Matthew Goode in a role that’s roughly equivalent to Gregory Peck’s in the original. Goode, a British stage actor, plays Ben Calder, a mysterious stranger who takes Anna under his wing, shows her the sights and tries to pretend that his motives are entirely pure. He has a secret that he can’t reveal to her, and his job depends on keeping quiet about it.
Goode suggests a younger, straighter Rupert Everett, and the contrast between his reserve and Moore’s perkiness almost works. Once Ben takes Anna on a ride on his motorcycle, the movie immediately begins to loosen up and become at least marginally watchable.
The witless White House jokes are left behind, the travelogue appeal of the European locations kicks in, and even a dual bungee-jumping session almost makes dramatic sense. You find yourself wanting to believe in the attraction between these people, even when Christian Henson’s score is working overtime to convince you and the first-time director, Andy Cadiff, shamelessly drags out “Turandot” to underline their most romantic reunion.
Unfortunately, whenever something appears to be happening between Ben and Anna, the movie starts pushing a parallel love story, between two Secret Service agents on their trail. And there’s nothing Jeremy Piven and Annabella Sciorra, two ordinarily resourceful actors, can do to make these characters appealing on their own or credible as a couple.
The script, by Derek Guiley and David Schneiderman, is so formulaic that you may find yourself trying to predict when they’ll throw in that obligatory montage of Kodak-ready romantic memories, as Anna thinks back on how much she’s enjoyed being with the compromised Ben. Will she ever forgive him? Please.
Aside from Hepburn and Peck, “Roman Holiday” is memorable for its wit and its recognition that some alliances are necessarily temporary. It’s a grown-up movie, and “Chasing Liberty” insults it by imitating it on such a superficial level.
John Hartl is the film critic for MSNBC.com