August 11, 2004
Whenever a critic speaks his true mind about a teeny-bopper schlock burrito such as ‘‘The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement,’’ publicists always fire back with the same tried-and-true counter-defense: It ‘‘might not be a masterpiece,’’ but it’s ‘‘really cute’’ and ‘‘has a lot of things that kids like.’’ And then the kicker: ‘‘It’s great for girls.’’
I’m sorry, but that is such bunk. "The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement" isn’t great for girls any more than Ultimate Cage Fighting is great for illiterate twentysomething males. It might entertain them by offering a crass fantasy getaway but where’s the greatness? There’s no wit here, or substance — merely airbrushed glimpses of wealth and romantic entitlement.
Dusting off his old "Pretty Woman" playbook (along with "Pretty Woman" supporting actors Larry Miller and Hector Elizondo), director Garry Marshall limply resumes the action five years after the events in the original "Princess Diaries" (2001). Armed with a degree from Princeton, one-time American middle-class tomboy Mia Thermopolis (Anne Hathaway) returns to Genovia, the tiny European monarchy that she inherited in the first movie, to succeed her grandmother, Clarisse Renaldi (Julie Andrews), as queen.
Ah, but there’s a snag — due to an arcane constitutional bylaw, Mia must marry before she can ascend to the throne. Sacrificing love for crown and country, Mia sifts through the suitors and settles on a tweedy British noble (Callum Blue) whom she barely knows.
Unbeknownst to Mia, a shady Genovian viscount (John Rhys-Davies from "The Lord of the Rings") is scheming to derail the marriage — and Mia’s royal future — by dangling his fit, boy-bandcute nephew Sir Nicholas (Chris Pine) as bait. Goodbye, adoring subjects and personal maid staff. Goodbye, automated walk-in closet.
Marshall ("Runaway Bride") doesn’t direct "Royal Engagement" so much as he babysits it. He packs his set with as much adorable hootenanny as possible: Trained cats and apple-cheeked children (leased from his pals and relatives, one gets the impression) and feathersoft slapstick designed to show us that Mia, underneath the tiara, is still just a goofy Yank.
One must wonder if Mia is mature enough to get married, anyway — what kind of blushing bride invites a bunch of little girls to her wedding shower for an all-night slumber party?
Hathaway ("Ella Enchanted") remains admirably composed throughout all this nonsense — just smile and laugh, kid — and is the only thing that keeps "Royal Engagement" from flushing down the royal commode entirely.
Heather Matarazzo ("Welcome to the Dollhouse") is a mess as Mia’s indecipherably snide best pal Lilly, and Genovia itself is an affront to cultural common sense. Flooded, strangely, by what appear to be expatriated Americans, the place feels about as European as Scottsdale’s Rawhide Western Town and Steakhouse.
At the end of the day, what values can little girls take away from "Royal Engagement"?
Yes, Mia is kind to the poor. Yes, she does achieve some semblance of independence by the final, overlong scene (the movie is two torturous hours in length). But she still falls for Sir Nicholas, an enormous preening jerk with less personality than his haircut.
If you want to do something "great" for your daughter, put her on a multivitamin. She can get slumberparty diversions such as this on any cinematic street corner.