Set five years after the events of the first film, Mia (Anne Hathaway) is settling into life as the future queen of European 'burb Genovia. Guided by the current queen and grandmother (a sublime Julie Andrews), Mia learns that to take her place as ruler she must marry within 30 days. The bachelor choices are slim, with a nefarious member of Genovia's parliament (John Rhys-Davies, "Lord of the Rings" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark") pushing his nephew (Chris Pine) into Mia's arms to take control of the kingdom through their marriage.
Like the original "Princess Diaries" film from 2001, the sequel, "Royal Engagement" (IMDb listing) has all the spice and mystery of a glass of tap water. Director Garry Marshall, who almost ruined this summer with his dreadful family comedy "Raising Helen," hasn't changed the formula that made "Diaries" such a smash hit, which is great for the franchise, but not for the audience.
I understand and admire the fairy tale world of the two "Diaries," which makes such an appealing series for younger audience members who get quite caught up in Mia's fantasy world of gowns, tiaras, and endless supply of fun. But Marshall is such a drain on the material, staging prehistoric slapstick bits that were dated back in the vaudeville era, and drowning the whole enterprise in needless, sluggish sentimentality when the films should sparkle with verve. Marshall has become a machine, churning out the same featherweight movies over and over, finding success only occasionally. "Royal Engagement" has no chance to be truly entertaining because it gasps for air under Marshall's anvil direction, again missing a great opportunity to turn this story into a continuing celebration of fairy tale happenstance.
At least Marshall had the sense to bring back Julie Andrews and Anne Hathaway, who are obviously the only personalities pumping positive energy into the film. Continually amazing is Hathaway, who is so delightfully comfortable being goofy on camera. She's the perfect Mia, blessed with reasonable pratfall skills, and also able to shoulder the clunky romantic elements heated up for the sequel. Hathaway's cheery, hunky-dory spirit is infectious, which is exactly what "Royal Engagement" is aching for.
Julie Andrews brings regality to the table, which this actress could convey with the simple wink of her eye. An added bonus in the film is the rare chance to hear Andrews sing again, albeit briefly, and rudely interrupted by overproduced caterwauling from actress Raven (in a cameo). But what's there is wonderful; proving that Andrews's throat traumas over the past decade couldn't stop such a Hollywood treasure from singing again. This short scene alone is a reason enough to see the film.
Fans of the original "Princess Diaries" shouldn't be disappointed, this is just more of the same, gently raising the stakes for Mia and her throne, but also losing a great deal of charm the original film held on to with quivering fingertips.
Filmfodder Grade: C