REVIEW: 'Monte Carlo'

20th Century Fox
A less-than-bubbly teen comic romp aimed at little princesses.

The jury’s still out on Selena Gomez’s bigscreen potential; she’s not very appealing or magnetic here, nor does she display any particular comic gifts in the film, out Friday.

Flat champagne for the under-aged, Monte Carlo lays out yet another banquet of materialist fantasies for aspiring American princesses cloaked in reminders to obey your conscience and not to forget your true self. Fair enough, but after a suitably air-headed opening stretch, this Fox release begins taking the romantic yearnings and regretful second thoughts of its girly threesome rather more seriously than might be to the taste of Selena Gomez's core fan group, which would perhaps prefer to see the girls just having more fun.

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An earnest Texas kid who's saved waitressing tips to treat herself to a high school graduation trip to Paris, Grace (Gomez) will be traveling not only with best pal Emma (Katie Cassidy), a high-spirited gal not prone to excess reflection, but also, as an unwanted chaperone, with her drippy stepsister Meg (Leighton Meester), a perennially down-in-the-dumps 21-year-old so morose she could cast a pall on a dinner party hosted by Noel Coward.

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With Emma rebuffing a last-second marriage proposal from nervous boyfriend Owen (Cory Monteith), the trio jets off to the City of Light, where their guide provides a tour so ludicrously accelerated that the wonders of Paris are offered as so much fast food; it all makes you wish you were watching Midnight in Paris for a second time instead of this.

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But there is relief in store for the girls, if not so much for the viewer, when Grace is mistaken for zillionairess Cordelia Winthrop Scott, an extravagantly snooty Brit who's imminently due to preside over a charity event in Monaco. Without a moment to protest, Grace and her willing entourage are swooped onto the lookalike's private jet and installed in the Grimaldi Suite at the infinitely swank Hotel de Paris, where Monte Carlo suddenly becomes their oyster.

Affecting a posh English accent, Grace is tended to by a sweet young Frenchman (Pierre Boulanger) whose family has lent its name to the auction, her other ornament being an elaborate necklace, the disappearance of which comes to figure prominently in the plot. For their parts, Emma is given reason to question her loyalty to Owen by a blindingly handsome Italian (Giulio Berruti) and Meg is shaken out of her stupor by rugged Aussie backpacker Riley (Luke Bracey).

Although she gets by for a while by mostly keeping her trap shut, Grace's imposture soon wears dangerously thin and the combination of mistaken identity, missing jewels, upscale European settings, hotel room slapstick and momentary amatory wistfulness combine to create the impression that director and co-screenwriter Thomas Bezucha (The Family Stone) is attempting an aspirational Blake Edwards romantic farce, albeit far more wished for than achieved.

Especially in the final stretch, the characters go through crises of conscience that force them, even in this contrived context, to assess what's truly important to them, and Grace is obliged to make a very public confession while Cordelia gets what passes for a comeuppance.

Even as she is the center of attention here in a double role, the jury is still out on Gomez's bigscreen potential; she's not very appealing or magnetic here, nor does she display any particular comic gifts for this sort of broad fare. Cassidy's lines are mostly low-grade wisecracks, while Meester becomes an increasingly welcome presence the more Meg lightens up.

Release: July 1 (Fox)
Production: Fox 2000 Pictures, Regency Enterprises, Di Novi Pictures
Cast: Selena Gomez, Leighton Meester, Katie Cassidy, Cory Monteith, Andie MacDowell, Catherine Tate, Pierre Boyulanger, Luke Bracey, Brett Cullen, Valerie Lemercier, Giulio Berruti
Director: Thomas Bezucha
Screenwriters: Thomas Bezucha, April Blair, Maria Maggenti
Screen Story: Kelly Bowe, based on the novel “Headhunters” by Jules Bass
Producers: Arnon Milchan, Denise Di Novi, Alison Greenspan, Nicole Kidman
Executive Producers: Stan Wlodkowski, Deborah Schindler, Forest Whitaker, Per Saari
Director of Photography: Jonathan Brown
Production Designer: Hugo Lucyzc-Wyhowski
Costume Designer: Shay Cunliffe
Editor: Jeffrey Ford
Music: Michael Giacchino
109 minutes, PG rating