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Royal Mess 

Vaudeville is dead, but nobody bothered to tell Garry Marshall. Turning 70 in a couple of months, the veteran hack seems the most unlikely director of movies about young women, such as Runaway Bride (1999), The Princess Diaries (2001) and this year's Raising Helen, which was the most recent misfire to lower Kate Hudson to the level of last year's flavor. A franchised piece of cardboard exploitation like this sequel brings to mind the great line Burt Lancaster has in The Sweet Smell of Success: "You're dead, son. Get yourself buried."

Sadly, the corpse has been left out in the room for all to see. Five years after the events of The Princess Diaries, perky Princess Mia (Anne Hathaway), heiress of the Rinaldi family, is caught up in an intrigue for the throne of Genovia, an anachronistic duchy about the size of a middling modern day spa. Hathaway can be a surprisingly grotesque-looking woman, which Marshall showcases by encouraging her to pull ugly faces.

As her granny about to step down from the throne, Julie Andrews' face is drawn, her eyes look freshly bee-stung and the excuse for a musical number makes the bladder cry out for immediate attention. It takes place at a slumber party for something like 40 spoiled little princesses, which should be the most dynamic thing ever. Actually, it's just a mess. In the real world, of course, it would be more like having Tara Reid and the Hilton sisters at a wine cooler distillery.

As the uncle of another pretender to the throne, Jonathan Rhys-Davies, the bad guy in Raiders of the Lost Ark, makes a nauseatingly hammy heavy, even before a close-up of his swollen bare feet got the loudest reaction from a roomful of small girls. The pretender is one Sir Nicholas, played by Chris Pine, an actor who looks like David Hasselhoff without the acting chops. Will they fall in love or merely share eyebrow-waxing tips?

The sets are shabby, as genteel as an in-flight goods catalog. Faux marbling rules. The costumes are awful, too. In an early scene, Hathaway is dressed in a shawl with all the fashion sense God gave a turnip, swirls of puce and purple and yuck. The vistas showcase the splendid scenery of a scruffy San Fernando Valley backlot. A romantic interlude by a lake at night is shot in almost precisely the same blue shadows as the Garden of Gethsemane scene that opens The Passion of the Christ. (Garry wept.)

There is so much superfluous junk going on in ill-framed shots you wonder about Marshall's attention span. Lighting and focus are inconsistent, making it seem like he's a first-take man, making sure everyone gets home in time for dinner with the family. Camera style, Garry? "Oh, just put it down anywhere." It's the mental equivalent of a 7-Eleven burrito, where ingredients that once passed for food are now something that wallows in your belly, mocking your cheapness.

A lot of semi-familiar faces linger in the background, with two or three lines thrown their way by movie's end. The extras casting is filled with faces from Marshall's movies and sitcom past, such as veteran Tom Poston or tiny, wizened Paul Williams. It's almost as if three dozen doddering pals of Marshall needed some screen time in order to keep their Screen Actors' Guild health insurance.

Marshall litters what's ostensibly a girl-empowerment spin on fairy tale dreams with many, many in-jokes, including his "lucky charm" Hector Elizondo as the queen's longtime security man and admirer from nearby. There's also a reference to Lenny and Squiggy, bit players in his sitcom Laverne & amp; Shirley, several to Marshall's unfunny 1993 play Wrong Turn at Lung Fish, and a stupid turn by comic Larry Miller, who pops up in the director's work, comprised mostly of a moose impersonation in an Italian accent.

Mia's line, "You just can't go around kissing people!" got a thrilled rise out of the wee ones at my screening, which was followed immediately by Hathaway tumbling into a fountain with Sir Nicholas, coming out soaked, with black thong lines and visible nippleage. (That's why the movie got a "Gee!" rating.)

There's a weird aside in one scene, where Princess Mia's dancing is described as requiring a "war crimes tribunal." When they finish building Movie Jail, let's see how quickly they lock up Garry Marshall.

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