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Chasing Liberty (Widescreen Edition)

Warner Bros. // PG-13 // May 4, 2004
List Price: $27.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted April 24, 2004 | E-mail the Author
Around this time last year, Warner Brothers and Fox were duking it out for an early January release slot for their presidential progeny projects. Fox's First Daughter tells the story about the 18 year old daughter of the President who's tired of living in a figurative fishbowl, unable to lead any sort of passably normal existence with Secret Service agents swarming everywhere. The chief decides to offer her the semblance of freedom she craves without compromising her safety. She finds herself involved with a disarming young fella with a secret, and the two of them engage in wacky misadventures before falling madly in love. Complications inevitably ensue from some underlying deception, there's a falling out, and...well, I don't want to spoil everything, especially since I still have to make room to followup with a synopsis of Chasing Liberty. Oh, except that I already have, since Chasing Liberty (which was also originally titled First Daughter) is the exact same movie. There are some differences, sure. For one, it stars Mandy Moore, not Katie Holmes, and it's set predominately in Europe rather than a college campus. Chasing Liberty also won the January slot that Fox and Warner were competing for, although the movie arrived with a resounding thud. While Fox scrambles to figure out what to do with the movie that's virtually identical to a recent box office flop, Warner is giving audiences a chance to discover Chasing Liberty on home video.

The basic plot rattled off above is probably good enough, but I'll delve into a little more detail anyway. Chasing Liberty stars too-cute-for-words chanteuse-slash-thespian Mandy Moore as Anna Foster, the daughter of the President of the United States (who, incidentally, is played by Mark Harmon). After a seemingly innocuous date goes awry thanks to the dozens of Secret Service agents keeping an Eagle Eye on everyone within a quarter-mile radius of Anna, she insists that she be allowed to head off to the Berlin Love Parade by her lonesome. Her father scoffs, but he does agree that she can go to a concert in Prague accompanied by just two agents. By "two", he apparently meant "two hundred", and when Anna spots scores of sorely out-of-place concertgoers sporting earbuds, she storms off with the help of a stranger named Ben (Matthew Goode) and his conveniently located Vespa. Determined to make the trek to the Love Parade, Anna, with Ben in tow, trots all around Europe, hitting Venice and Vienna along the way. She falls for Ben, although he seems determined to keep the frequently nekkid Anna at arm's length. (Moore doesn't actually bare anything herself, for anyone whose toes curled at the prospect, although she does have a butt double for a skinnydipping scene.) Ben bears a secret that prevents him from getting too close, which causes a rift that he has a tough time sealing. Anna is also pursued by two Secret Service agents, Alan (Jeremy Piven) and Cynthia (Annabella Sciorra). Alan's approach to romance isn't particularly subtle and more than likely litigious, if Cynthia were to decide that was sexual harrassment and that she didn't have to take it. Golly, I wonder if any of these crazy kids will fall in love...

I like Mandy Moore. I don't mean that in the lonely, Internet DVD reviewer sense...well, I do, though not just that sense...but in that I think she's genuinely talented. Of the teen-pop idols churned out in the late '90s, Moore has been the only one to survive un-skanked. While her contemporaries' ideas of maturation means "sluttier lyrics", Moore's recent albums offer :gasp!: actual instrumentation, the latest of which even had an XTC cover. That alone gets her a free pass in my book. Although the instinctive reaction is to groan whenever a musician decides to make a foray into acting -- every actor desperately wants to be a musician, and every musician desperately wants to be an actor -- Moore's managed to do pretty well at both. A Walk to Remember, her first starring vehicle, was a genuinely sweet movie starring a young, capable actress, not bearing the markings of the vapid vanity project many expected. Chasing Liberty doesn't live up to the promise she offered there. She still plays a sweet, likeable character, although Anna has a little more of a naughty streak. Matthew Goode, not the Canadian rocker...there's only one musician-cum-actor in Chasing Liberty. Goode is equally likeable and makes for a good romantic foil. The two leads are fine; the problem is that the story doesn't make the most of them.

If there's a cliché to mine, it's in here somewhere. There's the teen romance formula -- meet-cute, some sort of deception, preliminary squabbling, head over heels in love, deception discovered, heart-rending break-up, montage of warmed-over footage from earlier in the movie, inevitable reunion. It also offers up some of the standard road trip highlights, such as the lead characters having to fend for themselves after losing all their money. Although I'm well-aware that there are only so many basic premises floating around, Chasing Liberty doesn't have much aside from its stars or its European settings to set itself apart from the dozens of other vaguely similar romantic comedies littering store shelves. There aren't really any moments memorable enough to stick with me even just a couple of hours after watching it. Nothing exceptionally sweet, nothing exceptionally funny, nothing exceptionally dramatic...admittedly, nothing exceptionally awful, with the possible exception of some laughably bad slow-motion in the climax, but it's just a forgettable film. If not for my having to keep some details churning around in my head for the purpose of this review, every trace of Chasing Liberty would've already faded away. Though it's too ordinary a movie to recommend above much of anything else, Chasing Liberty is at least better than average as a DVD, offering a decent assortment of extras and a nice audio/video presentation.

Video: There are two different releases of Chasing Liberty slated to hit stores, so keep an eye out for the banner at the top of the snapper case. One is full-frame, predictably, and the other retains the movie's theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 in anamorphic widescreen. The latter is, of course, what's being reviewed here. Warner typically does an excellent job with presentations of their recent theatrical titles, and Chasing Liberty doesn't veer away from that path. The image is sharp and frequently colorful, showing off a pretty varied palette and a nice use of shadows. Having premiered just a few months ago, the image is expectedly free of specks or anything approximating wear. Grain is tight and rarely intrusive, generally only appearing to any great extent in some of the wider shots of its various cities. I'm not sure where the footage of Air Force One was culled from, but it looks like it was shot with an ancient Bell & Howell Super-8 camera sometime near the dawn of the '70s. Otherwise, the photography by cinematographer Ashley Rowe is stunning. If I felt like thumbing through my catalog of clichés, I could say that it's as pretty as a postcard, which also happens to be how Chasing Liberty marks its transitions from one locale to another. If nothing else, Chasing Liberty functions as a travelogue for a sizeable chunk of Europe. I can't remember the last time I watched a movie and really wanted to book a flight to Prague. Chasing Liberty didn't cheap out and try to pass, say, Vancouver off as Venice. It captures Europe's historic beauty, which translates wonderfully to this shiny five-inch disc.

Audio: The Dolby Digital 5.1 track (448Kbps) focuses most of its energy front and center. The rest of the action around the 'stage comes courtesy of the obligatory Pop Hits™, including cuts by Rooney, Tom Petty, and, he says with a heavy sigh, Sean Paul. Even though there aren't a lot of effects in the movie that call for blatant stereo separation or extensive use of the surrounds, there's a lot of music which fills pretty much every possible gap. Although the LFE doesn't really bring attention to itself for the most part, when it comes time for Liberty aus Berlin...yikes. The thunderous, pounding, punishing bass roared from my sub with such a low-frequency thump that if the faint neon of some glowsticks were visible from a window in the living room, my neighbors would probably think some sort of sparsely-attended rave was underway. That climax aside, Chasing Liberty doesn't offer the most exciting six-channel audio I've ever heard, but it suits the material well, and I'm not left with any complaints.

Also present -- subtitles in English, French, and Spanish, closed captions, and a Quebecois-flavored French 5.1 dub, also encoded at 448Kbps.

Supplements: Two of the featured extras revolve around Mandy Moore and Matthew Goode. In the "Passport to Europe" featurette, the two stars spend a few minutes talking about some of the highlights of shooting on location in Venice, Berlin, Vienna, and Prague, pointing out some of the places they'd recommend Europe-bound viewers make it a point to hit.. The two of them also contribute an audio commentary. Moore has the following to say at one point: "I think our commentary's going to get bashed, Matthew. They're going to say that we were really boring to listen to. So, you know, for all of you reviewing this commentary right now, we don't care." Yup, that pretty much covers it. They just don't have very much to say. In between lengthy spaces of nothing in particular, they'll toss out praise for each other, the rest of the cast and crew, and the locations in Europe. They spend more time silently watching than movie than they do speaking about it. Every once in a while, you'll get a note like Mark Harmon wolfing down room-temperature sushi, gulping down fake booze, choosing a butt double from a set of Polaroids, running with an infected toe from a fallen suitcase in squashed shoes, or exposing white bellies, but...yeah. Really is kinda dull.

Most of the remaining extras are centered around additional footage from filming, including a full concert performance by the Roots of "The Seed", though the video and audio don't match the quality of what's offered in the movie proper. Nine minutes of additional scenes in part better flesh out the characters of the President and particularly the First Lady. Other scenes include an extension of Anna and Ben strolling into a Czech bar, explaining the concept of Berlin, Ben keeping his job under wraps in Venice, a "Six Million Dollar Man! Ja! Ja! Is Good!" bike exchange, and post-bungee horseplay. The five minute gag reel completely revolves around Jeremy Piven, who sometimes might stumble over the set or make out with a briefly-glimpsed cast member, but he spends most of the time just riffing. Very funny and very much worth a look. Finally, there's a theatrical trailer (2:14), presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and Dolby stereo surround.

Chasing Liberty is a Warner release, so it comes packaged in a snapper case, with its twenty-nine chapter stops listed on the internal flap. The disc includes a set of 16x9-enhanced animated menus, and the DVD opens with a letterboxed trailer for Love Don't Cost a Thing.

Conclusion: Chasing Liberty is instantly forgettable, not offering much aside from its likeable leads and stunning scenery to distinguish itself from the hordes of twee-romantic comedies. Worth a rental, but it's not something I'd shell out twenty bucks to add to my collection. Rent It.
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