With Selena Gomez, Leighton Meester, Katie Cassidy, Pierre Boulanger, Luke Bracey; Running Time 109 minutes; Rated PG (for brief mild language); Written by Thomas Bezucha & April Blair & Maria Maggenti; Directed by Thomas Bezucha.
MONTE CARLO puts us squarely in “Sisterhood Of The Traveling Pants” territory. The stories aren’t the same, but it’s about three young women, one just out of high school and the other two a few years older, having adventures that will lead to romance, maturity, and lots of pretty scenery. This is going to be the price some boys may have to pay for dragging their girlfriends to the shambling “Transformers” movie.
Selena Gomez – from Disney Channel’s “The Wizards Of Waverly Place” – stars as Grace, a quiet working class kid in a small Texas town who is about to fulfill her dream of going to Paris. Coming along are her best friend, the somewhat ditzy Emma (Katie Cassidy), and her uptight stepsister Meg (Leighton Meester). The film takes a long time to get going, including much time wasted on their cut-rate (and high speed) tour of Paris.
Finally, the big contrivance kicks in. Grace is the spitting image of jet setting English heiress Cordelia Scott, which is as it should be since the part is also played by Gomez. They hear that the stuck-up Cordelia is going to blow off an all-expenses paid trip to Monte Carlo for charity. When – wait for it – Grace is mistaken for Cordelia, the three girls end up off to Monte Carlo where designer gowns, soulful young men, and adventure await.
It’s the sort of plot that you don’t want to waste a moment thinking about, even though three writers (including director Thomas Bezucha) labored to come up with a variety of near-misses and people jumping to the wrong conclusion. Does Meg just miss connecting with hunky Australian Riley (Luke Bracey)? Guess who, quite by chance (and heavy-handed plotting) shows up in Monte Carlo? And pity dashing Theo (Pierre Boulanger) who falls for Grace thinking she’s Cordelia, and then gets his face slapped by the real Cordelia when she unexpectedly shows up and he kisses her. Where do they get these ideas? Possibly from reruns of “The Brady Bunch” and “The Love Boat”?
In any event, the leads are all young and attractive, as are the locations in France and Monaco, although much of the film seems to have been shot in Hungary. Even Romania looks pretty, which is where the charitable foundation is building a school that requires the auction of Cordelia’s valuable necklace which Meg somehow put in Riley’s backpack and he’s now on a train heading to Italy… See? The plot isn’t really worth following.
The three young women are, however. All are young veterans with a long list of credits ranging from “Barney” to “Gossip Girl.” Chances are that the teen audience to which this is pitched will be well aware of the actresses who might not be household names to older viewers. Gomez has the showy dual role and has fun playing Grace imitating Cordelia. Meester and Cassidy get their moments, too. Not-spoiler warning: rest assured, everyone finds true love by the end.
“Monte Carlo” is a throwback to movies from the ‘50s like “Three Coins In The Fountain” that provided vicarious romance and European settings at the same time. It’s not great art but that’s like criticizing a picture postcard. It does what it’s supposed to do and, just like that postcard, can be filed away and forgotten afterwards.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being Jar Jar Binks Must Die… And Other Observations About Science Fiction Movies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.