'Monte Carlo' might be worth the trip

'Monte Carlo' might be worth the trip

July 1st, 2011 by By Michael Phillips/Chicago Tribune in Chattnow Movies

In this film publicity image released by 20th Century Fox, from left, Leighton Meester, Selena Gomez and Katie Cassidy are shown in a scene from "Monte Carlo." (AP Photo/20th Century Fox, Larry Horricks)


2 1/2 stars

MPAA rating: PG (for brief mild language).

Running time: 1:49.

So "Monte Carlo" turns out to be a lot easier to take than both "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" and "Larry Crowne." You never know.

Here's the sort of hardened show business veteran we have in Selena Gomez, who spent two seasons way back in her preteens on "Barney & Friends." We have the star of Disney Channel's "Wizards of Waverly Place." We have the star of Disney's TV movie "Princess Protection Program." We have a hardworking vocalist, whose first album came out in 2009. We have the woman who launched her own Kmart clothing line. Well. Hers and Kmart's.

And here's the nice thing. Unlike a few other well-drilled young actress-singers we could name, such as the one whose name rhymes with "Riley Myrus," Gomez knows how to relax on camera. In "Monte Carlo" she plays Grace, a graduating small-town high school Texas girl who dreams of Paris. That dream comes true, with a caveat: She and fellow waitress pal Emma (Katie Cassidy) end up traveling with a late-addition third wheel, Grace's scold of a stepsister, Meg (Leighton Meester).

Adapted from Jules Bass' novel "Headhunters," "Monte Carlo" leans hard in the early going on tiresome bickering between Meg and Emma, characters in their early 20s, while Gomez's 18-year-old Grace keeps the peace even as their package tour starts feeling like a chore. Then, bigger complications: The threesome gets separated from the group after an Eiffel Tower visit. And Grace is mistaken for a snotty British socialite (also played by Gomez), for whom she is a dead ringer.

Then it's off to Monte Carlo on the socialite ruse for boys, boys, boys. Emma falls in with a playboy, but her heart yearns for her Texas sweetheart (Cory Monteith). Meg, still grieving the death of her mother, finds a sunny Australian (Luke Bracey) to improve her outlook. Grace fakes her way through polo matches and deals with her attraction to a French boy (Pierre Boulanger). Disguises, deceptions - you could call the narrative of "Monte Carlo" Shakespearean, but I prefer to consider Shakespeare's romantic comedies as "Selena Gomez-esque."

Director and co-writer Thomas Bezucha lacks visual panache, and in fact leaves most of the panache in general to composer Michael Giacchino's swank and charming ditties and montage accompaniments. Still, the characters and the film grow on you. Meester more or less steals it. She plays the character undergoing the most compelling transformation, and her comic touch is both deft and subtle.

"Monte Carlo" is nothing much, but it leaves your soul un-crushed, and this week, especially, it's cause for a celebration-ette.