Originally created 04/02/04

At the Movies: 'The Prince & Me'

"The Prince & Me," in which Julia Stiles plays an American who falls in love with the prince of Denmark, is just begging for "Hamlet" puns - something about spreading compost on the weeds to make them ranker, perhaps, or how fluffy romantic comedies like this come not in single spies but in battalions.

(It follows two other young-love-in-Europe movies recently aimed at teens and tweens: "Chasing Liberty" with Mandy Moore and "The Lizzie McGuire Movie" starring Hilary Duff.)

Despite its cliches, which spiral wildly out of control as the film approaches its overdue conclusion, "The Prince & Me" doesn't really deserve to suffer such critical slings and arrows.

That's mainly because of Stiles' intelligence and presence and the chemistry she shares with her charismatic co-star, Luke Mably, a young Paul Newman look-alike who previously played a soldier in last year's fabulous zombie movie, "28 Days Later."

Stiles stars as Paige Morgan, a University of Wisconsin pre-med student who's focused on getting into Johns Hopkins and going on to treat underprivileged patients around the world.

Mably plays Edvard, the crown prince of Denmark, an impudent party boy who shirks his royal responsibilities in favor of the United States after seeing an ad for a "Girls Gone Wild"-style video about Wisconsin women.

We know they'll meet cute, but director Martha Coolidge - who's lost her edge since "Valley Girl" and "Real Genius" two decades ago - puts them on a collision course with each other. Paige races the pickup truck from her dad's dairy farm down a country road, while Edvard, an ocean away, races his BMW through the Danish countryside just for sport.

Once in Wisconsin - where Edvard goes by Eddie in an attempt to be incognito, despite the constant presence of his valet, Soren (Ben Miller) - the prince and Paige clash instantly (of course). But they end up reluctantly bonding while working together at the campus pub and helping each other with their studies.

Less than an hour into the movie, the four screenwriters wedge in a Shakespeare reference too heavy-handed to be clever.

Paige proclaims that "Shakespeare is so useless," and complains to Eddie about having to read a play about the whiny prince of Denmark.

The other joke is that Stiles made her name with films that contemporized Shakespeare: "10 Things I Hate About You," a high school version of "The Taming of the Shrew"; "O," which was "Othello" among basketball players; and the high-tech "Hamlet" in which she played Ophelia opposite Ethan Hawke.

As Paige struggles with sonnets, Eddie advises her: "You're being too literal - don't just go for the obvious."

The filmmakers should have followed those same words of wisdom.

We know that they'll fall for each other and that she'll feel deceived once his true identity is revealed - which happens when the paparazzi chase them around campus, one of the film's few brushes with reality.

We also know that she'll end up with him back in Denmark - to the dismay of his traditional mother, the queen (Miranda Richardson) - and that she'll undergo a "Pretty Woman"-style makeover.

Julia Roberts famously wanted the fairy tale in that movie, and she got it. Paige gets it, too - in a way that makes Richard Gere's wooing through the limousine sun roof look positively understated by comparison.

"The Prince & Me," a Paramount Pictures release, is rated PG for some sex-related material and language. Running time: 111 min. Two stars out of four.


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