How old is Katie Holmes? All published accounts put her at 24, which means she's too much of an adult for a bowl of malarkey like "First Daughter." But "Dawson's Creek" is all dried up, so she needs a vehicle. And the forced smile she wears throughout is the movie's only real political statement. Holmes looks preemptively, unnaturally happy to use her sparkly face and her sometimes perfect, sometimes mumbled diction on this movie's tutorial dialogue. To be fair, these do seem like necessary skills to play a US president's little girl, but the movie holds them as her ultimate virtues.
Desperate to be a "normal girl," Holmes's Sam Mackenzie flees the reelection campaign of her father (Michael Keaton) for a California college that's a lot like Berkeley. She's housed with Mia (Amerie), the movie's sassy sista of color. (Lela Rochon Fuqua, as an important member of the president's staff, is the movie's sensible sista.) And falls for James (Marc Blucas), her all-American R.A., or, depending on where you shop, her American Eagle outfitter.
Mia teaches Sam to loosen up. This includes such activities as flinging herself down a water slide in her finest Express and going to a club looking like Britney Spears in one of Snoop Dogg's pimp pornos. James teaches her that -- well, he doesn't teach her anything, but she does learn that she has hormones, and that she likes them. Sam takes her two buddies for a ride on Air Force One, treats herself and Mia to Vera Wang gowns (donated by Vera herself!), and twirls James around at some presidential gala. But because the movie can't go on being this dull forever, something happens that turns "First Daughter" into "The Bodyguard." I won't say what, but if you simply must know, the same rug was pulled out from under Mandy Moore in the year's first first-daughter romance, "Chasing Liberty."
Both Moore's film and "First Daughter" promote a blank notion of what it must be like growing up in the White House: so stressful you just want to run away and into the arms of the first cute boy who comes along. "First Daughter," though, is such a phony-cutesy fairy tale that it makes the European gallivanting in "Chasing Liberty" seem like "Bonnie and Clyde."
One of the two women credited for the screenplay, Jessica Bendinger, wrote a good episode of "Sex and the City," a fact that seems unfathomable under these circumstances. The director, Forest Whitaker, seems content to let the staging in "First Daughter" operate at the level of a school play -- the movements are blocky, the line readings awkward, and even the arguments seem picked up off a teleprompter. Keaton and Margaret Colin, his first lady, both wear lacquered expressions and tight, plastic grins that suggest body snatching more than acting.
The president in this movie is just a dad with a time-consuming job, like lawyering or installing cable. And the White House is just a therapy session to work out an Electra complex. Someone actually tells Sam, "Every father has to let go of his little girl, and every little girl has to let go of her father." Probably true. But "First Daughter" is so smug and moralizing about how to grow up that it feels more lobbied for by a youth-focused political action committee than dreamed up. Every girl should be raised in such a secure hothouse.
Hollywood has definitely cut back on teen-driven social horror flicks like "Crazy/Beautiful" and "Thirteen." Now we get "Twilight Zone" menageries of nice and wholesome upwardly mobile girls, like the ones in "Mona Lisa Smile," "The Prince & Me," and the declawed "Vanity Fair," or trash like "New York Minute," with something like "Mean Girls" playing down the middle. "First Daughter," though, is just bland behavioral propaganda, and Holmes makes such a guileless and robotic spokeswoman, it wouldn't be nuts to think the White House was just another mansion in Stepford.
Wesley Morris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.