Selena Gomez may have shot to stardom as a bratty wiseass on Wizards of Waverly Place, but it’s her featureless dramatic chops that best benefit Monte Carlo. In Thomas Bezucha’s tweener-targeted romantic trifle, Gomez is Grace, who graduates from high school and then bolts from Texas for Paris with her saucy best friend, Emma (Katie Cassidy), and grumpy stepsister, Meg (Leighton Meester), the latter of whom is forced on her by parents eager to have the siblings-in-law bond. There, Emma and Meg bicker over high heels while Grace bemoans a sightseeing bus tour that’s a joyless rush, making the trip a developing disaster until Grace is mistaken for bitchy British heiress Cordelia (also Gomez). At Emma’s prodding, Grace decides to impersonate the tabloid celeb all the way to Monte Carlo, where Cordelia is expected to auction off an opulent Bulgari necklace for a Romanian charity. Private jets and ritzy suites delight the girls, though it’s boys who soon command their real attention, and Bezucha’s tale—based on Jules Bass’s novel, and exhibiting an unsubtle schematism that also characterized his The Family Stone—soon pairs Grace and Meg with guys grappling with the same identity issues they are, as well as gives Emma a polar-opposite snobbish prince so she can realize that back-home boyfriend Owen (Corey Monteith) is her true love.
Mistaken-identity shenanigans and gooey romance are Monte Carlo‘s prime commodities, but the film is so tentative about ratcheting up the stakes—in terms of either blossoming amour or the potential consequences Grace faces for this ruse—that it coasts along at an inoffensively torpid pace. Gomez is likewise adequately cute, but too bland to lend the proceedings any vivid character, except for the few scenes that allow her to indulge her cold, sarcastic, nasty side as Cordelia. In a vain attempt to imbue his material with some sort of weight, Bezucha ends a scene in the Louvre by lingering on Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading the People,” but the gesture is as empty as his choreography is tame. Especially during wannabe-madcap sequences such as one that finds Grace being forced to play polo, a sport with which she’s thoroughly unfamiliar, the film seems downright disinterested in the very wackiness its scenarios demand. As with its treatment of class tensions (between Grace and wealthy classmates, Emma, and her European suitor), the story’s humor is underdeveloped and feeble. Nonetheless, if the scenic Paris and Monaco locations can’t fully remedy Monte Carlo‘s lethargy, its chasteness and toothlessness remain something of a minor relief, if only relative to the smug cheekiness peddled by Gomez’s crummy Disney Channel sitcom.