"The Prince & Me" is a romantic comedy about the farmer's daughter and the traveling prince - winsome Paige Morgan (Julia Stiles) from Wisconsin and dapper Prince Edvard (Luke Mably) from Denmark - and despite its cast and director (Martha Coolidge of "Rambling Rose"), it's one of those movies where talented filmmakers waste time with stale, phony material.
You can sympathize with director Coolidge, a sensitive, savvy filmmaker perfectly capable of striking up romantic fire - though not with a script and a production like this. In "Prince," Stiles plays genius farm girl and University of Wisconsin pre-med student Paige, and Britisher Mably ("28 Days Later") plays Prince Edvard, a.k.a. Eddie, a studly racer/playboy, with a tart-tongued aide, Soren (Ben Miller).
Soon enough, the writers have contrived a preposterous way to put the lovebirds together on the Wisconsin-Madison campus. Eddie spots a Danish TV ad, in English, for the amateur-strip video "Girls of Wisconsin" and, envisioning bevies of Badger beauties whipping off their tops, he registers at Madison, dragging along Soren but not enough money to last the semester.
At "Madison," Prince Eddie, incognito, soon meets the seemingly scornful Paige, and in short order becomes her biology lab partner, gets a job alongside her at the student union, is invited to her family farm for Thanksgiving and becomes an international tabloid item.
Then, the movie shamelessly transfers to Denmark, where we meet Eddie's parents, played by James Fox and Miranda Richardson, two fine British actors who should have abdicated as soon as they read the script.
Though one doesn't go to a movie like "Prince & Me" looking for kitchen-sink realism, it helps if the makers have some conception of the real world they're trying to romanticize. Coolidge and her writers ask us to believe in a Danish royal court where everyone except Richardson's Queen Rosalind speaks English with a British accent. They also ask us to believe in a Wisconsin where, in November, trees are green, it's short-sleeve weather and Manitowoc's smart young women hire polka bands for their weddings. Nonsense.
Though Amiel and Begler are UW-Madison alumni, their film, with the Wisconsin scenes shot mostly in Toronto, imagines a Madison with no lake and no Union Terrace, where students have to sneak up to the library stacks to make love. Nonsense again.
Stiles is a beguiling actress, but Paige is written like a petulant princess. Her self-absorption is obnoxious, and her airhead dismissal of Shakespeare rankles. A brainy Wisconsin farm girl, even in pre-med, more likely would adore literature and respect learning. Mably is OK as Prince Eddie, though one marvels at this Dane's flawless Brit accent and penchant for Shakespearean quotations. Soren, who acts like a vet of the Danish cast of "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," deservedly gets most of the laughs.
The best romantic comedies are often based on dreamy fantasies that the moviemakers and actors make real, like "It Happened One Night," "When Harry Met Sally" or "Roman Holiday." Sadly for Stiles, there's nothing much real-looking in "The Prince & Me" except for the castle exteriors - and those were shot in Prague.
"The Prince & Me"
Directed by Martha Coolidge; written by Jack Amiel, Michael Begler, Katherine Fugate; photographed by Alex Nepomniaschy; edited by Steven Cohen; production designed by James Spencer; music by Jennie Muskett; music supervisor Robin Urdang; produced by Mark Amin. A Paramount Pictures/Lions' Gate Entertainment release; opens Friday, April 2. Running time: 1:51. MPAA rating: PG (some sex-related material and language).
Paige Morgan - Julia Stiles
Prince Edvard/Eddie - Luke Mably
Soren - Ben Miller
King Haraald - James Fox
Queen Rosalind - Miranda Richardson
Amy Morgan - Alberta Watson