Grade: D

This is the second movie released in under a year about a president’s teenage daughter, and it reminds you of a political campaign: it’s colorful and flashy but completely vacuous, and differs very little from its competitor. “First Daughter” follows “Chasing Liberty,” the Mandy Moore vehicle that came out last spring, very closely indeed; apart from a change of scenery (the earlier picture was set largely in Europe, while this one sticks to the States), the plot is virtually identical. In each case the girl-on-the-cusp-of-womanhood longs for greater freedom than her circumscribed existence allows, and falls in love with an undercover secret service agent assigned to protect her, only to go bonkers when she discovers he’s been deceiving her about his identity. The story is no more interesting this time around, and the change of scenery, if anything, makes it less attractive. The “president’s kid” genre is small and undistinguished, but “First Daughter” manages to be inferior even to its mediocre older sibling.

Katie Holmes plays Samantha, the eighteen-year old only child of President Mackenzie (Michael Keaton), who’s running for a second term, and his lovely, supportive first lady Melanie (Margaret Colin). After a few brief scenes in D.C. showing how the poor kid chafes in her sheltered life, she’s off to college in California, where she finds that her roommate is Mia (Amerie), the obligatory attitude-rich African-American, and that paparazzi are trailing her everywhere. Though she apparently likes her regular agents, their presence cramps her style and distances her from her classmates. Fortunately one hunky fellow named James (Marc Blucas) makes contact, and before too long becomes her R.A., in which capacity he not only helps her disguise herself to get out of the dorm but takes her on secret jaunts to such unaccustomed places as a revival movie theatre (where they not only sneak in with surprising ease, but find an implausibly large audience watching “The Girl Can’t Help It”) and an isolated lake where they can go off on a canoe and fish. Before long the two are having romantic feelings toward one another, but everything changes when Sam arranges to take James and Mia to D.C. for a big White House bash (using Air Force One–at what must be horrendous taxpayer expense) and she and James enjoy a dance and some sweet talk. Unhappily, an incident immediately afterward reveals James’ status. A host of utterly predictable complications follow. One involves whether James can function objectively around Sam anymore, and whether his feelings for her will endanger his secret service job (to which he’s devoted because he’s following in the footsteps of his dad and granddad). Another concerns Sam’s reaction–can she keep her cool and avoid further public displays that might invite tabloid coverage and hurt her dad’s re-election chances? And, of course, a third centers on whether their love can finally overcome the hurdles and win out.

“First Daughter” wants desperately to come off as a modern fairy tale: it starts with a cutesy narration delivered in preternaturally soothing tones by director Forest Whitaker and then proceeds through its predictable paces with glacial slowness, apparently in the mistaken belief that what’s really nothing more than another variant of the “Cinderella” motif all these bubble-gum movies for little girls share has some deep meaning. Whitaker’s flaccid direction–rather like that you’d expect in a TV sitcom mixing laughs and tears–is matched by a production design (by Alexander Hammond) that plays to a twelve-year old’s concept of royal elegance and cinematography (by Toymichi Kurita) that almost gives a shimmering aura to the images. The cast is stranded in the middle. Holmes is attractive to the eye and has a nice smile, but she makes Sam little more than a boring, passive, though pretty girl who seems only mildly irked that her parents regularly use her as a political prop (though they’re also supposed to be warmly affectionate)–and indeed she sacrifices her schooling in the end to help the campaign; and on the one occasion when she does “break loose” and act “naughty,” it’s pretty embarrassing–and not just to her screen mom and dad. (And, as in all movies of this type, she’s never seen studying. Oh, we see her briefly in a lecture class, which seems to be some sort of oddball philosophy course, and at another point she’s shown reading a book–“Siddhartha,” no less!–but that’s it.) Blucas is stiff and uncomfortable in a thankless part that he must know he’s way too old for, and Amerie strives to be the comic sparkplug but never gets things revved up. The most curious casting is certainly Keaton, who makes an even less plausible president than he was a Batman. Even Mark Harmon, in “Liberty,” fit the part better. Colin is a perfectly tailored Laura Bush clone, though. Unfortunately, the picture represents the last work of composer Michael Kamen, who died last year and is credited here along with Blake Neely, and the generically bubbly score is far from his best; it’s a sad epitaph for a good musician. (The picture is dedicated to him.)

From the political perspective “First Daughter” couldn’t be more amorphous and fuzzy–President Mackenzie faces some protesters who seem left-wing types, but his mushy pronouncements hardly seem worth taking account of (and his culminating remarks about concentrating on family values during a second term are even sappier than the real thing)–but the blandness of his campaign is actually exceeded by that of the movie itself. This “Daughter” deserves a solid thrashing at the boxoffice polls.