1 ½ stars (out of 4)
In the bright, thin political romantic comedy "First Daughter," star Katie Holmes plays Samantha Mackenzie, the daughter of fictitious U.S. President John Mackenzie-a smooth Bill Clintonesque charmer (though apparently a Republican) played by Michael Keaton. Holmes's Samantha however, often and eerily resembles another movie Keaton: the radiant Diane of "Play It Again, Sam" and "Manhattan."
Playing Samantha as a sweet but mildly rebellious teen, Holmes's facial expressions so irresistibly recall the female Keaton's that you might mistake Samantha not for the daughter of mythical President Mackenzie but of Annie Hall or "Something's Gotta Give's" Erica Barry.
But though Holmes may have appropriated some of Keaton's smiles and expressions, she hasn't glommed onto her comic timing-and neither has the movie. It's a glossy, well-mounted, slickly done but almost stuporously predictable affair, both formula-bound and utterly illogical. And, despite a good cast, which includes himself as narrator and cameo agent, director Forest Whitaker never really gets any sparks or chuckles flying or hearts warming.
Whitaker shapes this movie as a modern fairy tale, but it plays more like a failed modern TV sitcom pilot. Radiant Samantha, the darling of the White House, is sent off by her dad-soon to be mired in a bitter re-election campaign-to a California college with a crew of hulking or hunky Secret Service agents. There she immediately connects with feisty, sassy and slightly jealous roommate Mia (played by R&B singer Amerie) who leads her merrily astray into a world of rowdy swimming pool parties, flirtations, dorm sex, amateur striptease bar nights and a romance with Samantha's ultra-helpful dorm resident advisor James (Marc Blucas of "I Captured the Castle").
All of this throws the Prez, his wife, Melanie, (Margaret Colin) and even Samantha's ally, advisor Liz Pappas (Lela Rochon Fuqua) into electoral consternation, while testing Mackenzie family bonds, prompting several bad Tonight Show jokes from Jay Leno and allowing the movie to spring its one feeble midway-through surprise. And after also unleashing-not once, but twice-glowing images of Samantha dancing to Jerome Kern's classic hanky-wetter "The Way You Look Tonight," this movie fairy tale finally rolls out its moral: Presidents (and president's daughters, wives and Secret Service agents) are really just people.
Somehow, that's not as comforting a thought as the moviemakers, or most political ad experts, may want us to believe. Samantha seems to have been modeled, at least initially, on Chelsea Clinton, though Daddy John seems to be a Republican-and perhaps there's a bit of the Bush girls in her as well. But the writers never bring any conviction to Samantha or her unlikely problems. Would this demure miss really get plastered at a local bar in a Jayne Mansfield wig and Hooters outfit and then try to take it all off in front of her Secret Service agents? Samantha may be a formula character, but even on that level, most of what she does makes no sense-and isn't funny
Whitaker, who directed one hit romantic comedy, 1995's "Waiting to Exhale," has got a smooth style and he knows one of the genre's prime rules: Keep the cast looking dreamily good. But he and his actors have been saddled with a script (from writers Jessica Bendinger and Kate Kondell, who, respectively, wrote and co-wrote "Bring it On" and "Legally Blonde 2") that is about a believable, edifying and entertaining as the average political campaign ad.
I would recommend "First Daughter" only to moviegoers madly in love with Katie Holmes or susceptible to Blucas. While Holmes was busily replicating Diane Keaton's summery smiles and impish takes, couldn't she have lifted a few jokes as funny as Diane's? Don't play it again, Samantha.
Directed by Forest Whitaker; written by Jessica Bendinger and Kate Kondell from a story by Bendinger, Jerry O'Connell; photographed by Toyomichi Kurita; edited by Richard Chew; production designed by Alexander Hammond; music by Michael Kamen, Blake Neely; produced by John Davis, Mike Karz, Wyck Godfrey. A Twentieth Century Fox release; opens Friday. MPAA rating: PG (for some language, sexual situations and alcohol-related material).
Samantha Mackenzie - Katie Holmes
James - Marc Blucas
Mia - Amerie
President John Mackenzie - Michael Keaton
Melanie Mackenzie - Margaret Colin
Liz Pappas - Lela Rochon Fuqua
Jay Leno, Joan Rivers, Vera Wang - Themselves
Narrator, Secret Service Agent - Forest Whitaker