The chief charm of Garry Marshall’s “The Princess Diaries,” which became a summer sleeper hit in 2001, was the spectacle of Julie Andrews playing Henry Higgins to Anne Hathaway’s teenage Eliza Dolittle.
The role of Eliza, the hopeless Cockney flower girl, had made Andrews a star in the 1950s stage version of “My Fair Lady,” and it was fun to see her playing the other major role: the demanding snob who turns someone else into a reasonable facsimile of royalty.
Mia, the vulgar, klutzy California schoolgirl played by Hathaway, turned out to be almost as much of a challenge to transform as Eliza. The scenes in which Andrews teaches her how to walk, talk and behave like a princess are the heart of the movie. As Queen Clarisse of Genovia, who is also Mia’s grandmother, Andrews seemed to relish the chance to reverse roles.
That relationship is still functional in Marshall’s numbingly conventional sequel, “The Princess Diaries 2: The Royal Engagement,” in which Mia continues to require the queen’s guidance to get through her duties. Although Mia is five years older now, she’s a college graduate, and her 21st birthday is being celebrated in grand style, she still makes the occasional faux pas.
The chief difference this time is that Clarisse can’t always be counted on to smooth things over. When Mia falls into a pond during a formal event, she can only glance sheepishly at Clarisse and wonder loudly if Clarisse even wants to know how she came up dripping wet.
The chief reason for her condition is a dreamboat named Nicholas (Chris Pine), who charms Mia until she realizes that he is the chief rival for the throne. When she discovers that she must marry in 30 days if she wants to become queen, she sees him only as a manipulator who wants to be king. She quickly gives into the idea of an arranged marriage with a British duke (Callum Blue) who generates no sparks.
The rest of the movie is an astonishingly contrived variation on “boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl,” complete with a runaway bride episode. There are no surprises, and even the Hathaway/Andrews relationship fades. The script throws in a love interest for Clarisse and a hint of a love interest for Mia’s best friend (Heather Matarazzo), but absolutely none of it feels genuine.
The two-hour running time is filled up with cute stuff involving Mia’s overly devoted maids (Mia wants to know, “How do you turn off the curtsies?”), a slideshow presentation of various eligible bachelors (including England’s Prince William and one man who isn’t heterosexually eligible), and Mia’s exploration of a royal walk-in closet filled with jewels and fashion accessories (“I have my own mall,” she sighs).
“Power,” says one royalty-advising character, “means never having to say you’re sorry.” Considering the creampuff consistency of “Royal Engagement,” perhaps it’s making too much of that remark to suggest that it could be the movie’s message. But it certainly leaves a sour taste.