THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Last month, I was doing my weekly movie review on a local radio station’s morning show. We were talking about the recent Hilary Duff comedy A Cinderella Story. I didn’t like it, and a suggestion was made that I was not exactly in the target demographic for the film. Yes, I protested, but I have liked other movies aimed primarily at teenage girls, such as The Princess Diaries. The host thought that comment was pretty funny. My point got lost, though. If a film is well-done, it can appeal to anyone, not just those in the target demographic.

The original Princess Diaries was well done. Of it, I wrote: “Other similarly-plotted movies have drowned in a pool of shallowness; this one at least tries to shoot a little higher. Fluff though it may be, the movie ends with a welcome message suggesting that responsibility can be cool.” My opinion of The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement is not nearly as high. Oh sure, the target demographic will probably love it, but all others might find the picture slow going.

Anne Hathaway returns as Nia Thermopolis, who is now living in the fictional European country of Genovia. Her grandmother Clarisse (Julie Andrews) is about to step down as Queen, thus paving the way for Nia to ascend to the throne. A monkey wrench is thrown into the plan by Viscount Mabrey (John Rhys-Davies), one of Genovia’s parliament members. His nephew Nicholas Devereaux (Chris Pine) is also in the royal bloodline. Since Genovian law states that an unmarried woman cannot become queen, Mabrey insists that Nicholas be crowned king instead.

The other members of parliament compromise by giving Nia thirty days to get married. Although she is less than thrilled about the idea of an arranged marriage, Nia wants to rule the country. She is ultimately fixed up with Prince of Kensington Andrew Jacoby (Callum Blue), a nice but somewhat nebbishy young man with whom she has no real spark. Meanwhile, Mabrey plots to undermine the courtship by having the hunkier Nicholas woo Nia, who is undeniably attracted to him. Soon, the queen-to-be finds herself with two suitors.

There might have been some tension in this situation, had Nicholas been played as an unlikable and scheming character. However, he comes to respect Nia and loathe his uncle’s attempts to steal the crown. So who do you think Nia ends up with – the dork or the stud? (Believe me – I have given away nothing.) That kind of obviousness is what does The Princess Diaries 2 in. Everything in this plot marches along to a prefabricated beat. We have seen this romantic triangle plot played out again and again in movies. Nothing new is done with it here.

Rather than taking the love triangle – or anything else – seriously, the dopey screenplay simply relies on tired slapstick and familiar plot conventions. Neither of these things work. The jokes here are tired at best. Consider the scene in which personal stylist Paolo (Larry Miller, returning from the first film) gives Nia a series of wacky hairstyles for her supposed wedding day. Or the one in which Nia and Nicholas argue in front of a fountain before falling in. Or the two annoying servants who keep curtseying to Nia. None of this stuff made me laugh.

It might have been interesting to play the story more seriously. The original film – while still a comedy – managed to explore the possibilities of a high school student becoming royalty. I would have preferred for the sequel to really look at the concept of arranged marriages. They still take place in some parts of the world. How would a young woman deal with the conflict between responsibility and the desire to experience true love? Everything was in place for the movie to deal with this issue in a smart way, but it never rises to the challenge.

There was one element to the film that I did like, and that was the relationship between Clarisse and security chief Joe (Hector Elizondo). Their romance began in the original film and it develops here. Elizondo and Julie Andrews are old pros who know how to deliver dignified performances. They work well together, bringing a grown-up feel to their scenes that the movie desperately needs.

The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement sends out a message that women don’t need a man to validate them. They are capable and competent on their own. Few, if any, would disagree with such a positive message, and it’s a good one for young girls to hear. Unfortunately, I don’t think the movie earns its message. Because nothing else in the film is handled with intelligence, the message comes across like a platitude rather than a genuine sentiment. In other words, the girls in the audience may hear the message but they won’t necessarily feel it. Especially since the movie makes a big point out of making sure Nia ends up with a man.

( 1/2 out of four)

The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement is rated G. The running time is 1 hour and 50 minutes.

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