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Chasing Liberty

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Chasing Liberty

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Late in 2003, Mandy Moore released Coverage, a shrewd collection of tasteful, self-consciously "mature" karaoke versions of standards by such acts as XTC, Joe Jackson, Todd Rundgren, and the singer-songwriter trinity of Joni Mitchell, Carole King, and Carly Simon. The album cover is a impressively subtle piece of image-making: a simple, sun-dappled close-up that presents Moore as earthy and ripe, apparently composed of flesh and bone, rather than the sex-doll synthetics of other girl-pop idols. On record and in her movies, Moore is sold as wholesome and real, which sometimes translates as generic and blah, in spite of her genuine appeal and accessibility. If Coverage were ever conceived as a film series, Volume One would be Chasing Liberty, a suitably pale updating of Roman Holiday and It Happened One Night, two classics about privileged young runaways finding love and adventure on the open road. Playing a president's daughter itching to flee the Secret Service agents and taste a little freedom, Moore calls a tantalizing question to mind: What would happen if the former teen princess ever escaped from her handlers? Based on her relaxed performances in this film, as well as A Walk To Remember and the underrated How To Deal, she could nurture a career to outlast any of her battery-charged contemporaries. But Moore can only feast for so long on vanilla wafers like Chasing Liberty, which spoils a reliable old premise by stranding its willing cast in predictable situations with reams of stale dialogue. A seasoned First Daughter with six years in the White House and another eight in a governor's mansion, 18-year-old Moore uses her father's Prague summit as a chance to break out and sow her wild oats. Hoping to reach the Love Parade in Berlin, she slips away from security flacks on a motorbike belonging to handsome Brit Matthew Goode, unaware that he's actually working undercover for her father. She and Goode zigzag across Europe experiencing "controlled freedom," while followed closely by two agents (Annabella Sciorra and Jeremy Piven) who get swept up in the romantic spirit. The frisky chemistry between the spoiled, impulsive Moore and the more worldly Goode mimics that of Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable in It Happened One Night, but the script adheres strictly to the pop-star playbook. Stuck in the latter stages of Britney Spears' "Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman" conundrum, Moore gets to skinny-dip and bungee-jump before taking the big plunge, officially moving on to the next phase. Only when Moore getting laid onscreen (or offscreen, in this case) is not an event will she finally shed her vaunted image and gain the credibility she deserves.

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