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Stiles charms in ‘The Prince & Me’

The story of  the Crown Prince of Denmark falling in love with a college student from Indiana. By John Hartl

The year’s second unofficial remake of “Roman Holiday,” Martha Coolidge’s sporadically charming “The Prince & Me” modifies the formula by reversing the sexes. The commoner who falls for royalty this time is a girl from farmland Wisconsin. And the bored, disguised heir to a European throne is a prince, not a princess.

Coolidge acknowledges the homage by including a brief clip from “Roman Holiday” on television, as Eddie, the Crown Prince of Denmark (Luke Mably), channel-surfs his way to a collage of commercials that suggest that busty American college girls are what’s been missing in his life.

A bad boy who embarrasses the crown via escapades that get reported in the scandal sheets, Eddie convinces his ailing father (James Fox) and stiffly conventional mother (Miranda Richardson) that he’ll be better off elsewhere. Accompanied by his taciturn valet, Soren (Ben Miller), Eddie winds up at an Indiana university, pursuing a pre-med student, Paige (Julia Stiles), who also works as a bartender.

Back in January, “Chasing Liberty” used the “Roman Holiday” formula to connect an American president’s daughter (Mandy Moore) and a mysterious European commoner (Matthew Goode). It didn’t click, mostly because the daughter was a semi-royal pain, and at first Eddie seems to offer more of the same.

He introduces himself to Paige by drunkenly asking her to take off her top; she responds by spraying him with a fire-hydrant dose of soda. Later she gets saddled with Eddie as a lab partner, and he’s even more of a disappointment. As “meet cute” devices, these do not come off as terribly promising.

However, when Eddie starts quoting “Romeo and Juliet” and discusses the subtext of Shakespeare’s portrait of another alienated Danish prince, Paige is understandably won over. When she takes him home to meet the folks at Thanksgiving, he reveals less intellectual virtues, while Paige’s low-paid, hard-working father awakens Eddie’s political impulses. This comes in handy when Eddie returns to Denmark and his official duties.

Although it’s often smart and literate, Katherine Fugate’s script errs by trying to have it both ways. Eddie’s a boor, then he’s not. Paige hates him, then she can’t get enough of him. Their relationship is supposed to make Eddie more responsible and Paige more receptive; what’s missing is the sense that either has really changed.

What makes the connection credible is the chemistry between Stiles, who is much more persuasive as an independent college girl here than she was in “Mona Lisa Smile,” and Mably, an appealing British actor who is best-known for a supporting role in last summer’s “28 Days Later.” By film’s end, you can’t help wanting them to find a way to be together.

Coolidge doesn’t give Fox, Miller or Richardson enough to do, and she leans heavily on Stiles and Mably to carry the film past its contrivances. They manage to accomplish exactly that, even when faced with a bittersweet, then not-so-bittersweet ending that also tries to have it both ways. Sometimes, if the romantic chemistry’s right, everything else just falls into place.