First Daughter Movie Review

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We now understand why Forest Whitaker and the suits at Fox held off releasing their own presidential daughter romance after Mandy Moore's Chasing Liberty beat them to the punch. Basically, we're looking at the exact same movie save for some minor alterations.

Both involve an overachieving first daughter who, tired of living up to elevated expectations, cuts loose from the presidential apron strings and strikes off in search of pre-twentysomething independence. Moore, in her film, bounces around Europe, while Holmes tests the waters of college life. And while each daughter truly believes they're sowing their wild oats, they both are being watched over by undercover agents planted in their path by the overprotective president. (Liberty was even titled First Daughter in an early incarnation.)

Having heard both pitches, I would have bet money Katie Holmes' First Daughter had a better chance at success. For starters, it has Holmes in the lead, who's a likeable version of Moore and far easier on the eyes. Secondly, the Commander in Chief of Liberty was milquetoast Mark Harmon, while Daughter has Michael "Mr. Mom" Keaton. Again, no contest. Finally, we have Whitaker, a director who already has made great strides behind the lens with Hope Floats and Waiting to Exhale.

Hindsight, however, is 20/20 and surprisingly, Liberty knocks Daughter out of the race. The element of surprise helps. Even the zombies stomping through Shaun of the Dead can predict where Daughter is going before Holmes steps aboard Air Force One en route to college.

There's just no brain in this pathetic campaign. Here are but a few of the script's obvious guffaws. A partygoer is busted at a fraternity for brandishing a water gun that looks too authentic. Funny, I thought they stopped making those decades ago after cops started shooting kids in dark alleys. Later, Samantha's served alcohol in a bar despite the fact that she's the nation's most high-profile teenager and she's accompanied by Secret Service agents who acknowledge that she's underage.

What kind of message does Daughter send? We get a girl who's fully capable of debating hot-button political issues and tells us she's better off doing human slip-and-slides to a generic R&B track. Daughter preaches how it wants Samantha to have a "normal" college experience but betrays the mission by using abnormal, market-tested college caricatures in place of believable character bits. Note to screenwriters Jessica Bendinger - a Sex and the City vet who should know better - and Kate Kondell: College kids don't bathe that often, they rarely wear the finest Abercrombie duds, and they never, ever keep their campus looking so squeaky clean. Is this college in California or fantasy land?

The out-of-touch view of the collegiate lifestyle is forgivable. The inability, however, to write one decent and original emotional character arc is inexcusable. Sam's relationship with her roommate (Amerie) is wildly inconsistent. The romance between Sam and assigned agent James (Marc Blucas) is built on the extremely fragile surface of Ivory Soap bubbles, and that's before we realize he's a date narc. Ironically, Blucas made a name for himself on the spectacular Buffy the Vampire Slayer... playing a government agent masquerading as a college student. Talk about typecasting. It's good to see Keaton working again, but get this clown prince back behind the wheel of sarcasm. His talents are being turned out to pasture here.

How's this for a link: Holmes is the offspring of a former Batman in Daughter but will graduate to play the love interest of Batman in her next film. If only someone could have donned a cape and utility belt on screen, things in this dud might have improved.

The DVD adds two deleted scenes, a commentary track by Holmes and Co., and a much-anticipated choreography featurette. Watch it twice!

Must... stay awake... for movie... and... chess...

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First Daughter Rating

" Grim "

Rating: PG, 2004

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