Selena Gomez is all girl in her first star-vehicle big-screen comedy, Monte Carlo. But that's a problem, as she is so utterly out of her league with her grown women co-stars as to seem like a mascot to Leighton Meester and Katie Cassidy.
Monte Carlo is a sad-faced and old-fashioned mistaken-identity comedy about a waitress from Texas who saved and saved for her dream trip to Paris to celebrate graduation from high school, only to have the trip go sour until she discovers she looks just like a snooty British heiress. So Grace (Gomez) takes the place of Cordelia (Gomez) with the willing support of her brassy, sassy all-Texas older pal Emma (Cassidy of Gossip Girl and Supernatural) and her reluctant, repressed stepsister to be (Meester).
Madcap mayhem ensues. Except it doesn't. Whatever the Jules Bass novel that this is based on had going for it must have been lost in the vast committee of screenwriters and endless committee meetings of producers. Talk about wringing the charm out of something.
The vacation with the mismatched trio is going badly -- a rushed, cattle-call group tour -- when Grace is first mistaken for Cordelia. So the girls ease into faking their way from Paris to Monte Carlo, in private jets and Roll Royce limos, Oscar de La Renta dresses and a Bulgari necklace that this frosty Brit is supposed to auction off in Monte Carlo.
Cordelia is all pricey sunglasses, rudeness and dismissive remarks into her cell phone. "Some charity thing -- polar bears, hungry people."
She is, Grace's pals mutter, "like a mean Mary Poppins."
Gomez is meek as Grace, inept as Cordelia. It's hard to decide which fake English accent is worse, the one that's supposed to be authentic or the one Grace attempts as she pretends to be Cordelia.
Director Thomas Bezucha (The Family Stone) sees to it that we get pleasant if tired observations about the perils of group tours and the magic of this or that Paris landmark spoiled by the trio's hurry. Old gags abound as Meg takes a tumble for an Aussie vagabond tourist (Luke Bracey) and knocks over a row of moto-scooters. Cassidy gets a lovely scene in which she recognizes the emptiness of this class of folks she has envied from her working class perch in Texas. And Meester lights up in her scenes with Bracey.
You take movies like this for what they are and for whom they're intended. But this script, this leaden direction ensures that even as the teen wish-fulfillment fantasy, complete with young women playing dress-up, Monte Carlo fails. The money went to locations as there isn't a single funny bit player in the cast. Why hire Cory Monteith to play Emma's beau back home if you've got nothing for him to play?
The apple-cheeked Gomez, apple of Justin Bieber's eye, was better in Ramona and Beezus, playing younger and more in her comfort zone. She's not old enough to hit the casinos in Monte Carlo, and maybe she won't be up to playing young adult roles until she is.
Written and directed by Thomas Bezucha, based on a novel by Jules Bass. A Twentieth Century Fox release, playing at Rave Franklin Park, Fallen Timbers, and Levis Commons. Rated PG for brief mild language. Running time: 109 minutes.
Critic's rating: * 1/2
Grace ..........Selena Gomez
Meg .......... Leighton Meester
Emma .......... Katie Cassidy