If Woody Allen didn’t provide enough picture-postcard views of the city for you in “Midnight in Paris,” you might check out this fluffy vehicle for teen star Selena Gomez, which offers a mini-tour of the French capital in the first thirty minutes. As if that weren’t enough, it then proceeds to the titular town in Monaco, where it spends another hour showing off the sights.
Unfortunately, the action in front of the colorful landscapes and landmarks is no match for the backgrounds. What a trio of screenwriters have concocted from a novel by Jules Bass is one of those contrived switched-identity pieces that never get past their idiotic premise. Gomez plays down-to-earth Texas high-school grad Grace, who’s been dreaming of a trip to Paris forever. She’s happy to be accompanied by her free-spirited best chum Emma (Katie Cassidy), but nonplussed when her parents (underused Andie MacDowell and Brett Cullen) add a third member to the group—her uptight stepsister Meg (Leighton Meester). And, in fact, their time in Paris does prove mostly a bust.
There’s a sharp turn in fortune, though, when the three wander into a ritzy hotel and Grace is mistaken for a British heiress named Cordelia Winthrop-Scott, a self-absorbed snot who abruptly decides to ditch her commitment to go to Monte Carlo for a charity auction. Though they have some misgivings, the three decide to go in her place.
What follows is entirely predictable, especially in the romance department. Grace gets involved with Theo (Pierre Boulanger), the handsome son of the foundation that will benefit from the auction of Winthrop-Scott’s emerald necklace. Meg loosens up under the charming influence of Aussie wanderer Riley (Luke Bracey). And though Emma doesn’t make a local catch, her home-town beau, Owen (Cory Monteith), who objected to her going to Paris, comes to the continent to win her back.
There are also the obvious sorts of practical complications, of course. Grace’s imposture is endangered when Cordelia’s aunt Alicia (Catherine Tate) shows up. That fabulous necklace winds up missing after Emma decides to wear it on a date with a prince. And of course Winthrop-Scott turns up herself at the last moment, threatening to have the girls arrested. But rest assured that “Monte Carlo” is not a movie that ends up in despair and prison terms.
The good things about the picture are purely visual. There are the locations, of course, including those in Budapest that stand in for Monte Carlo, which are nicely shot in widescreen by cinematographer Jonathan Brown. There are the three photogenic leads, which Brown treats with similar care, and for whom Shay Cunliffe has designed attractive costumes. And there are the guys, all of whom are CQ material. (Needless to say, acting ability is hardly a consideration for any of them.)
If you were entranced by “The Princess Diaries,” for example, “Monte Carlo” might be your cup of weak tea. But as a whole the movie is piffle, an empty-headed trifle that’s the cinematic equivalent of an advertising spread in a glossy teen magazine. It would be an obvious candidate for a cable-TV premiere were it not for the budget that exceeded that allocated for Disney Channel or Nickelodeon fare.