First Daughter Movie Review
Set in an absurd, patronizing fantasy world in which flag-waving citizens line the streets to see the president's kid off to college and angry political protesters share the red-carpet sidelines at black-tie events with shallow reporters asking stupid questions, "First Daughter" could well be the most hackneyed and insipid movie of 2004.
Failing to achieve even the shrug-worth mediocrity of January's similarly plotted "Chasing Liberty" (with Mandy Moore), this gimmick-driven disaster drags star Katie Holmes down with it as Samantha Mackenzie, the sheltered, personality-free offspring of a controversial commander-in-chief (an unconvincing, completely vanilla Michael Keaton), who falls in love with a cute Secret Service agent (an even blander Marc Blucas) posing as a student in her dorm.
Although introduced in the manner of a fairytale, the film's rampant lack of authenticity is simply insurmountable. Samantha's bodyguards constantly hover three feet behind her -- even in class and while she's alone in the dorm's TV room. The girl is never once shown doing anything that even remotely resembles studying, yet as she's egged on by a soundtrack of flutes and twinkling triangles, she proclaims her determination to have a normal coed experience. In pursuit of it, she sneaks out on dates with that charming classmate she doesn't know is an undercover agent -- that is until he blows his secret identity by rescuing her during one of many security breaches so impossibly contrived that the Secret Service should sue 20th Century Fox for defamation of character.
Cutesy-poo to a sickening degree, yet peppered with pseudo-political sincerity that clumsily tiptoes around any real issues for fear of riling up moviegoers, "First Daughter" is such flaccid, formulaic tripe (insert sassy dorm-mate here) that it couldn't be salvaged by director Forest Whitaker ("Waiting to Exhale") even when given an extra eight months to tweak it. (The film was originally scheduled to release the same day as "Chasing Liberty.")
The only even tenuously realistic story element is that Samantha's re-election-minded father has his priorities seriously out of whack -- even insisting she abandon school (not that she was doing anything there) to help him campaign. Yeah, that'll play well with the voters. Meanwhile, the chemistry-deficient romance between Samantha and her besotted bodyguard becomes increasingly implausible when he returns to duty -- suddenly all stiff, serious and wearing a suit -- after his breach of protocol. ("We all deserve a second chance," says the president, apparently unconcerned that his daughter's life may hang in the balance.)
Even granting "First Daughter" a little unearned suspension of disbelief, the movie still fails on its own terms, becoming so lifeless, leaden and painfully protracted that the fantasy it concocts of cute boys, ball gowns and free rides in Air Force One comes off as something to avoid at all costs because it will ruin all your friendships and romances.
The same goes for the movie itself -- it may not ruin your life, but it's sure to make you want your money back.