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First Daughter (February 14/05)

Though First Daughter was originally set to open the same week as that other 2004 comedy about a Presidential First Daughter, Chasing Liberty, the film eventually blinked and moved to a Fall slot. And no wonder, given how similar the two movies are; from a certain plot development to a general sense of mediocrity, both films are agreeable time-wasters but nothing more.

This time around, Katie Holmes assumes the central role and it goes without saying that she's a far better actress than Mandy Moore (though in all fairness, Moore is getting better). Holmes plays Samantha Mackenzie, the titular First Daughter who's getting set for her sophomore year at college. Her father, the President (played by Michael Keaton), isn't happy that Samantha's chosen a school on the other side of the country, but begrudgingly accepts her decision. This being a romantic comedy, it's not long before Samantha finds herself attracted to James (Marc Blucas) - a fellow student who just might be harboring a secret of his own.

First Daughter has been directed by Forest Whitaker, who imbues the film with the same sort of genial quality and deliberate pace that seems to have become his trademark (following earlier efforts like Hope Floats and Waiting to Exhale). Aside from the inclusion of several innocuous R&B songs on the film's soundtrack, Whitaker is content to let the story play out without including his own stylistic touches (this is really just a polite way of saying the film is, visually, extremely bland).

While the movie starts off as a fluffy, engaging little comedy, it's not long before a decidedly more melancholy vibe kicks in; it's impossible not to expect a few serious moments in a film of this sort, but First Daughter becomes an all-out drama at around the one-hour mark (a transition that is, to put it mildly, jarring). Were this a better movie, it would be a lot easier to buy this kind of abrupt thematic shift - but because the film features characters that aren't exactly complex, such plot machinations can't help but feel artificial.

The screenplay, by Jessica Bendinger and Kate Kondell, doesn't do itself any favors by including cheesy, melodramatic subplots that are almost infuriatingly predictable. A perfect example of this would be Samantha's roommate, a sassy black girl (she's black, so she must be sassy) who's used to being the center of attention and - see if you can guess where this is going - has a hissy fit once everybody starts glomming onto her famous pal. This kind of lazy screenwriting runs rampant through First Daughter, particularly in the film's third act - which just goes on and on, extending the running time to a bloated 104-minutes (it's clear that the movie should have topped out at around an hour and a half).

If not for the exceedingly charismatic performances (ie Michael Keaton), there's no doubt that First Daughter would be a lot more intolerable than it is. As it stands, the film is basically entertaining - particularly if approached on the same level one approaches a sitcom.

out of

About the DVD: Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment presents First Daughter with a spotless letterboxed transfer, along with a few noteworthy bonus features. The disc comes with a commentary track (featuring Holmes, Blucas, and co-star Amerie Rogers), a pair of featurettes (including a tribute to Michael Kamen, who passed away last year), two deleted scenes, and a few trailers.
© David Nusair