Suffering through a life of media blitzes and a general invasion of privacy, Samantha MacKenzie (Katie Holmes) is finally getting her chance at freedom in her first year at college. Trouble is, she's the President's (Michael Keaton, not even trying) daughter, and wherever she goes, Secret Service men follow. Overcoming the hype that greets her days on campus, Samantha eventually meets James (Marc Blucas, "The Alamo") and falls in love. As the two develop a tender courtship, James has a secret he wants to share with Samantha, but is unable to find the right moment to gently break her heart.
Hollywood can be quite a small place sometimes. Occasionally, audiences will get two volcano movies, two asteroid films, or even dual Steve Prefontaine bio-pics in the same year. For 2004, we have the year of the first daughter flicks. Following last January's criminally dull Mandy Moore starrer, "Chasing Liberty," we now have Katie Holmes' obscenely vanilla "First Daughter" (IMDb listing). After sitting through two of these stories now, I can say with authority that being the President's daughter must be the most boring job in the world.
Where "Chasing Liberty" was focused more on being a European adventure (and I use the word "adventure" loosely), "Daughter" elects to keep its plot confined to the adventures of Samantha on a college campus. It's shocking how much the two films have in common; from sharing the exact same reveal shots of the daughter in the White House to the "twist" of the story, where the love interest turns out to be more than what he seems. The similarities are scary.
At first glance, "Daughter" looks to have the advantage in the competition between the two productions with the guiding hand of Forest Whitaker directing the picture. Whitaker knows a thing or two about emotional truth with hits "Waiting to Exhale" and "Hope Floats," but his antennae must've been bent for this motion picture, which wrongly assumes itself a fairy tale, and follows every last cliche and labored dramatic arc to the final shot. Opening with Disneyish credits, "Daughter" has its flashes of romance, but it also features Samantha drunkenly dancing on a bar. It's also got Mia (Amerie Rogers), Samantha's sex-crazed dorm roommate and the film's comedic relief. But there's a problem: Rogers isn't funny, not even a little bit. Her scenes with Holmes are even more torture than any of the other DOA material to be found in the film. What was Whitaker thinking? If "Daughter" had to go African-American sassmouth (and God help me, that idea has been bled dry), there are a million actresses more qualified for the role than Rogers.
Trying to keep her head above water is Katie Holmes, who flashes her adorability like an American Express card. The appallingly generic script sabotages all the performances, but Holmes doesn't fold like a towel when the words are failing the scene, like Michael Keaton or Marc Blucas. Holmes keeps her chin up and survives the picture, and admittedly does a much better job at conveying the stress of presidential life than Mandy Moore. Holmes has talent and magnetism, but clearly, this foray into Julia Roberts territory just isn't for her.
Filmfodder Grade: D