Though our ancestral countrymen fought famine, religious persecution and uncounted hardships to get away from Europe, it has become rite of passage for college-age Americans to backpack through Europe in order to "find" themselves.
In "Chasing Liberty," Mandy Moore stars as Anna Foster, an 18-year-old embarking on said pilgrimage, with one major exception: She's the president's daughter. And as it turns out, "Liberty," a likable, light-as-air road comedy, is a much better movie than its sour-pun title.
Sick of being shadowed by humorless, ear-budded figures in dark suits, Anna decides to ditch her first family while in Prague and hooks a ride with Ben (played by a capable Matthew Goode), a mysterious English photographer, to Berlin's annual Love Parade.
It's easy to draw comparisons to our current president's daughters.
Certainly, "Chasing Liberty" cashes in on some parallels to the Bush girls, and that couldn't have hurt the pitch to the studio. The Bush daughters' antics have made headlines, but only because of their famous father. If growing up wasn't already hard enough, imagine trying to cut the proverbial cord, make the mistakes of youth and "find yourself" around ever-present chaperones who report everything to your parents.
Rather than pigeonholing Anna as a privileged prisoner of class, however, Moore breaks her character out of a current-events joke into a performance of universal themes.
Moore, lately more dedicated to her screen career than the overcrowded pop-music scene, delivers another unpolished but appealing performance as Anna. Previously, she's been good in bad movies (most notably "A Walk to Remember"), but the material seems to be slowly catching up to her. Last year, her dating comedy "How to Deal," though it skirted some of the more dangerous undercurrents of teen life (as does "Liberty"), lent more gravity to her screen persona.
She's still able to pull off the girl-next-door vibe, playing Scrabble with her parents (albeit on Air Force One) and trying on outfits in front of a mirror before a date. Even her presidential pop (played by distinguished, graying Mark Harmon) comes off as a caring dad, asking his Cabinet "What's third base again?" after Anna describes her lack of dating experience in baseball metaphors.
Jeremy Piven and Annabella Sciorra (last seen as Tony's unhinged mistress in "The Sopranos") add a funny, if only slightly forced, secondary plot as Secret Service partners less hot on Anna's trail than they are for each other. Piven, in particular, brings an unpredictable sense of fun to the movie, delivering unexpected nuances to a screen relationship that might have otherwise capsized under cliché. (Watch for his rendition of "Hebrew hip-hop.")
As a teen movie, "Chasing Liberty" is still wed to certain conventions -- sexual exploration stuck inside PG-13 parameters, manufactured danger and the screen image of its star. Sitcom director Andy Cadiff ("Home Improvement," "According to Jim") delivers a bumpy third act, but Moore and her co-stars make the ride worthwhile, and certainly never boring.
While less insightful and less engaging than an actual escape to Europe, "Chasing Liberty" serves as an economical alternative for teens not old enough to strap on a backpack for their own adventure. It's safer, too, though it might be a good idea to keep this bit of information from one's parents.
Directed by Andy Cadiff; written by Derek Guiley, David Schneiderman; photographed by Ashley Rowe; production design by Martin Childs; music by Christian Henson; edited by Jon Gregory; produced by Broderick Johnson, Andrew A. Kosove, David Parfitt. A Warner Bros. release; opens Friday, Jan. 9. Running time: 1:41. MPAA rating: PG-13 (sexual content and brief nudity).
Anna Foster -- Mandy Moore
Ben Calder -- Matthew Goode
Alan Weiss -- Jeremy Piven
Cynthia Morales -- Annabella Sciorra
President James Foster -- Mark Harmon
McGruff -- Martin Hancock