FIRST DAUGHTER

PG
Reviews

First Daughter is a second helping of a twice-filmed (this year!) fairy tale about the romantic rigors confronting an American president's daughter. You've seen it all before-better and recently-as Chasing Liberty. Liberty was the Secret Service code name for Mandy Moore's character in that film. Katie Holmes operates in this one as Lucky Charm.

There are other plot differences-well, one, anyway. Whereas Moore had the happy advantage of scenic globe-hopping, Holmes focuses on her freshman year in a California college. Both fall for the first attractive young man who hovers over them a few seconds, never suspecting that he's a Secret Service agent in Papa's employ hired to protect her. The horror! The horror! If you take this practical necessity as betrayal and can imagine being hurt by it, then you are probably too young to vote-or too pampered to be bothered.

Marc Blucas (View From the Top) is the collegiately camouflaged Galahad in question and, with his quiet-strength intensity, steals the picture from his time-hogging leading lady (as did, incidentally, Matthew Goode from Moore before him-both sterling examples of acting with economy). They create out of cardboard characters to care about.

First Daughter marks the screenwriting debut of actor Jerry O'Connell, who started writing it in 1999 with the idea of playing the Secret Service Samaritan himself, but, once the ball got rolling, he opted to stay on board to executive-produce. Jessica Bendinger and Kate Kondell, who penned Bring It On and Legally Blonde 2, did the script follow-through.

Another actor, Forest Whitaker, took up the directorial reins-as he's prone to do these days (Waiting to Exhale, Hope Floats). The most notable thing about his direction-and this becomes an annoyance-is that he begins a scene with actors reacting to the words of the preceding scene. It's editing-made-easy, but it irritates.

The most unusual aspect of First Daughter is that it elects to put Beetlejuice in the White House-Michael Keaton, who, truth to tell, is too short for that gesture. (Almost all the women tower over him.) Where Keaton truly falls short is, simply, in connecting with the character. Anyone who has seen him in, say, Clean and Sober knows he has talent to spare. Here, he seems to be walking through the part as if protesting the shallowness of the scripting. "That whole China thing was real good," he is told by one particular constituent, who plummets what little political depth that there is in the film. Actually, the line is uttered by a cloyingly politically correct character-Holmes' African-American roommate and sidekick. R&B singer Amerie, as lacking in acting skills as she is a last name, plays the part with a crowd-displeasing chip on her shoulder.

As the first lady, the excellent Margaret Colin exudes her preconditioned charm and poise (she played Jackie O on Broadway in 1998 and won a Theatre World Award for it). What a pity she is in a perfunctory little picture that doesn't go far beyond sitcom superficiality.

-Harry Haun