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Chasing Liberty (January 7/04)

Given that I spent a lot of time bashing Mandy Moore's performance in A Walk to Remember in my review of that film, it seems only fair that I admit she has improved considerably since then. She's still not a great actress - far from it - but she is, at least, now able to exude an amiable quality that most of her contemporaries seem to covet (ie Jennifer Love Hewitt, Drew Barrymore, etc). Chasing Liberty is just the sort of instantly forgettable romantic comedy that all up-and-coming actresses seem required to tackle at the beginning of their career, though some surprisingly effective supporting performances keep this one a cut above most.

Chasing Liberty casts Moore as First Daughter Anna Foster, a precocious 18-year-old who's tired of being watched all the time. While on a diplomatic trip abroad with her father (played by Mark Harmon), Anna ditches her Secret Service entourage and hooks up with a hunky local named Ben (Matthew Goode). Unbeknownst to Anna, Ben is actually an Agent himself - assigned by the President to protect Anna, while keeping his true identity a secret.

The primary job of a romantic comedy is to keep the audience engaged even though we know exactly how it's going to end, and up to a point, Chasing Liberty does succeed in that respect. Director Andy Cadiff keeps things moving at a brisk pace, and makes good use out of the unusual foreign locales visited by Anna and Ben. He even throws in a surprisingly decent SteadiCam tracking shot, which is certainly an unexpected bonus to emerge out of a film like this.

But the movie eventually runs out of ideas, indicated by the escalating use of sappy ballads as the movie approaches its conclusion. At a running time of around 105-minutes, Chasing Liberty is probably a half hour too long; flicks like this have no right exceeding 90 minutes. Though screenwriters Derek Guiley and David Schneiderman try to keep things interesting by throwing in various subplots, most of which serve only to detract from the one element most viewers want from the film - the love story between Ben and Anna. However, one subplot that does work and is actually better than the main storyline involves the two agents pursuing Anna. The roles have been filled by Annabella Sciorra and noted scene-stealer Jeremy Piven, and their playfully antagonistic relationship is easily the highlight of the film (as I always say, you can never get too much Jeremy Piven).

As far as January movies go, you could certainly do worse than Chasing Liberty (Virus, anyone?). The cute chemistry between the two stars goes a long way, and though the film is terminally overlong, the film never becomes an all-out bore.

out of

© David Nusair