In her third starring role in the past two years, bubblegum-pop-songstress-turned-budding-thespian Mandy Moore once again transforms a dreadful teen-oriented romance into something moderately watchable. As Liberty finds adventure, romance, and personal freedom from her over-protective Commander-in-Chief father by smiling her way around Europe with a British hunk, Moore accomplishes something I thought nearly impossible given the film’s tedious, sledgehammer-subtle story: she enchanted me. With her brown locks, twinkling oval eyes, and slender, offhand grace, Moore has screen presence to burn, and Chasing Liberty is largely a chance to watch her flash her considerable movie star charisma. Whether she’s blithely prancing through the crowded streets of Prague or skinny-dipping in the Danube, the young actress brings a passion and bubbly enthusiasm to her character’s quest for an empowering escapade free of parental supervision. That Moore’s latest film once again doesn’t live up to her performance, however, is—after A Walk to Remember and How to Deal—a predictable disappointment. Moore’s Liberty is tired of being followed by a horde of Secret Service agents, and decides to go AWOL while accompanying her father (Mark Harmon, having seemingly forgotten how to flaunt his own once-captivating smile) to a summit in Prague. She teams up with (and swoons over) a mysterious stranger named Ben (newcomer Matthew Goode), who, it turns out, is actually another Secret Service agent ordered to accompany her around Europe and give her a false sense of—ugh!—liberty. Along with the groan-inducing title and an unnecessary subplot involving the budding affair between Secret Service agents Morales (Annabella Sciorra) and Weiss (Jeremy Piven), the bludgeoning score clumsily telegraphs the film’s themes (“You’ve got to live your life and do what you want to do” is sung during Liberty’s climactic visit to a German street parade). The only natural scene involves Liberty’s inaugural sexual experience, which unlike Britney’s deflowering in Crossroads (which felt like the product of month-long debates between Spears’s myriad PR strategists) provides a refreshingly non-judgmental portrait of teenage sexuality. Still, despite Moore’s charms, Chasing Liberty‘s otherwise pervasive blandness leaves one with the impression that the filmmakers don’t trust their female teenage audience to understand or embrace complexity or sophistication.
Mandy Moore's skin is a thing of rare beauty, and her face complements every gorgeous pastel color in the film. The more primary colors (you know, like the red, white and blues), feel a little over-saturated, and some shimmering is noticeable during the film's bungee jumping sequence, but this is a remarkably clean transfer and edge enhancement is virtually nil (noticeable only during some daylight scenes and around distant objects). The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround isn't quite as special, but this is a good mix nonetheless. The sound design is understated and the score isn't exactly expansive, but dialogue is very clear and full-bodied. For example, Liberty's failed first date during the opening moments of the film showcases the excellent use of left and right channels.
First up is a commentary track by Mandy Moore and Matthew Goode. There's nothing profound here, but fans of the cute Goode and the even cuter Moore will feel like they're shooting the shit with them for almost two hours, from how minx-y Mandy's hair can get to just how weird some people are. For anyone who's never been to Europe, Mandy and the gang offer tips like "Bring your hippest clothes" on "Passport to Europe." Rounding out the disc is more footage from the "Roots Concert," additional scenes clocking in at eight minutes, a gag reel that focuses entirely on Jeremy Piven, and trailers for Chasing Liberty and Love Don't Cost a Thing.
God, it's so tough being the President's daughter what with all those cute secret service men to choose from.