“Monte Carlo” could have been a fizzy farce about a trio of Texas gals on a romp through the playground of European aristrocracy thanks to a case of mistaken identity, or a sweet and heartfelt tale of three young women getting to know each other and themselves during a Summer That Changed Everything. Where the film disappoints is in trying to be both.
Apple-cheeked Bieber-squeeze Selena Gomez stars as Grace – and with a name like that, you know she’s Monaco-bound – a small-town waitress who’s been saving up to go to Paris after her high school graduation.
With best pal Emma (Katie Cassidy) and wet-blanket stepsister Meg (Leighton Meester) in tow, the three of them go on one of those package tours where the guide says things like, “On your left…was Notre Dame” on the way to a 20-minute visit to the Louvre.
Our heroines get separated from their group, and Grace gets mistaken for international celebutante and troublemaker Cordelia Winthrop Scott (also Gomez, playing rich-bitch with relish), and when Cordelia flakes on a trip to Monte Carlo for a charity auction, Emma convinces Grace to pretend to be her.
The set-up and the climax of these farcical shenanigans have a goosey lift, and director Thomas Bezucha (who made the lovely gay romance “Big Eden” and the decidedly less adorable “The Family Stone”) slams doors and hides valuable necklaces with aplomb. But “Monte Carlo” has bigger chick-lit (it’s based on Jules Bass’ novel “Headhunters”) fish to fry, so we have to see pouty Meg get over the death of her mother thanks to a romance with a free-spirited Aussie rugby player (Luke Bracey), while Emma learns that cruel Eurotrash hunks are no match for her hometown honey (“Glee” star Cory Monteith).
Gomez doesn’t have the big-screen pop of, say, Emma Stone, but she’s thoroughly convincing as both a small-town dreamer and a world-weary gorgon. Cassidy, when dressed up in the film’s finery, has a distinctly ’80s look – picture Susan Blakeley guest-starring on “Dynasty” – while Meester’s permanent look of constipation fits the dreary Meg just perfectly. It’s too bad that talented British comic Catherine Tate has little to do here but literally keep the plot afloat as Cordelia’s posh aunt.
Teen girls who want a vicarious overseas jaunt are advised to follow Emma’s lead in one scene of “Monte Carlo” and watch “To Catch a Thief” instead.