Monte Carlo

If things had gone as 20th Century Fox had originally planned, reviews of Monte Carlo may have started something like: “Based on the novel Headhunters by Jules Bass, Monte Carlo is among Nicole Kidman’s most fun performances to date. As one of four New Jerseyites who head off to the posh, coastal…”

Yes, Monte Carlo was originally drawn up with Kidman in mind (along with three other adults), but that’s before Denise DiNovi came on board. The producer behind such tween hits as The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and A Walk to Remember realized it could be repackaged with Disney Channel darling Selena Gomez, and poof! another instant tween hit would be born.

So, here we are a few years later. Bass is still given credit for the source material, Kidman is now listed as a co-producer instead of star, and Gomez is successfully wrapping up her transition from Disney Channel TV star to singer/movie star.

She stars as Grace, a diner waitress in Nowhere, Texas, who’s saved up for a post-high school trip to Paris. Her free-spirit best friend and fellow waitress Emma (Katie Cassidy) is going along for the ride, too, as is Grace’s new stepsister Meg (Leighton Meester). It’s all very reminiscent of European Vacation for a few days until they get separated from their tour group. Seeking refuge from a rainstorm, they pop into the first hotel they see, where Grace is immediately mistaken for ‘brash British heiress’ Cordelia Winthrop-Scott (also played by Gomez).

Since Cordelia has fled the scene leaving the Presidential Suite unoccupied, the girls take advantage. Before long, things have spiraled out of control, and they’re getting Cordelia’s luggage (ball gowns, Bulgari jewels, and all), hopping on Cordelia’s private plane to a Monte Carlo fundraiser, and getting wooed by handsome European men.

At the same time, Emma’s grease-monkey boyfriend Owen (Glee‘s Cory Monteith) is on his way to Paris to profess his love for her, Cordelia’s aunt (Catherine Tate) is slowly figuring out the switched identities, and then there’s the matter of the lost gazillion-dollar necklace.

Monte Carlo riffs on any number of movies– not the least of which are 2003’s Lizzie McGuire Movie, which shares an almost identical plot (substituting Rome for Monte Carlo), and To Catch A Thief (which is fittingly seen in the background during one scene).

Though the plot is as formulaic as they come, the script and the performances are more than enough to keep things fresh and lively. Gomez more than holds her own against the Gossip Girlers (despite the six-year age difference between she and them), and her split turn as the cranky Cordelia only adds to the fun. The one downfall, as is usually the case in movies like this, is with the male members of the cast. Less exciting than a sheet of flaking wallpaper, they seem content just giving the old Flynn Rider ‘smolder’. Then again… for the tween girls of the world, that’s probably more than enough.

The script, co-written by director Thomas Bezucha, is full of goofiness and girl-bonding with some occasional slapstick and sappiness tossed in for good measure. There’s no shortage of too-coincidental moments, but there’s also no shortage of charm. There’s nary a bad word to be heard, never a compromising situation, and nothing that couldn’t be shown on Disney Channel at noon on a Tuesday.

When all’s said and done, it looks as though DiNovi (and Kidman) were smart to veer off from the original plan. Instead of a tired Sex and the City rehash, we get a fun, squeaky-clean European holiday. Not a bad trade-off.

3/5 stars