Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Color me shocked, "Monte Carlo" should charm its demographic


Monte Carlo (2011) 
108 min., rated PG.
Grade: B -

Say you're a tweenage girl who enjoys a wish-fulfillment Princess and the Pauper fairy tale and your idol is Disney Channel diva Selena Gomez. Then "Monte Carlo" might just be the ticket. Gomez plays Grace, a high school graduate who's saved up a trip to Paris from working as a diner waitress in her Texas hometown with her wild, slightly older BFF, Emma ("Gossip Girl" Katie Cassidy). Then her mother (Andie MacDowell) and stepfather (Brett Cullen) drop a surprise on Grace: her morose stepsister, Meg (Leighton Meester, another "Gossip Girl"), is going to Paris with them! 

Arriving to the City of Lights (not Love, as Emma mistakes it for), they take a whirlwind bus tour through the Louvre and stay in a fleabag hotel room that looks nothing like the brochure. Once left behind by their whiplash-fast guide, Grace, Emma, and Meg find refuge in a fancy hotel, where Grace is mistaken for a snooty, scandalous British socialite, Cordelia Winthrop Scott (also played by Gomez without a hint of humor). That's right, Grace is a dead ringer for the Paris Hilton wannabe, and it's like "The Parent Trap," except they're not long-lost twin sisters. Emma and Meg push Grace to play along, faking an accent, and then it's off to Monte Carlo to live like royalty for a few days. They fit perfectly into gorgeous gowns, swoon over hunky French boys, and Grace wears a $3 million necklace that gets misplaced. 

Directed and co-written by Thomas Bezucha (2005's "The Family Stone") from his screenplay (by April Blair and Maria Maggenti, based on the novel "Headhunters" by Jules Bass), the fraud, dishonesty, robbery, and mistaken identity elements of the plot are contrived, lightly handled, and not far removed from "The Lizzie McGuire Movie." It's not quite on par with "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" films, but the pleasant girls-just-wanna-have-fun vibe makes this a cute, chirpy, innocuous escapist version of "Sex and the City" without the sex. Mercifully, there is no pushy slapstick, but some of the comic set-pieces aren't used for their screwball potential, a polo match coming to mind. 

But it comes down to the three girls, who have charisma to spare. Gomez is like a little package of sunny, unaffected radiance, which she brings to Grace, who very well could've been an entitled brat. Katie Cassidy is saucy fun with a twangy accent and shows the most comic flair of the three. Meg could've been a total killjoy, but Meester makes her transformation charming. "Monte Carlo" doesn't reinvent any wheels, but it does exactly what it sets out to do as harmless, likable summer entertainment. 

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