Roman tragedy

Film - Philip Kerr is driven to despair by an anodyne rip-off and its tween queen star

Remember Roman Holiday? Who has not been to the portico of Santa Maria in Cosmedin and copied the scene where Gregory Peck sticks his hand into the so-called Bocca della Verita and pretends, much to Audrey Hepburn's shock and horror, that he has been viciously bitten by something on the other side of that cracked marble human face? The story goes that the director, William Wyler, didn't tell Hepburn that Peck was going to do it, which accounts for the genuine look of surprise on her beautiful, gamine face. Hepburn plays a princess (supposedly based on Princess Margaret) who, bored with protocol, gives her toadies and courtiers the slip in la citta eterna; and Peck plays an American journalist who has the scoop and the girl fall into his redundant, fluffy lap. Best of all is Eddie Albert, who steals the movie as the snapper who captures all of Hepburn's romantic adventures with Peck on camera. It's a nice, feel-good film.

But this was 50 years ago, when Americans still travelled to Europe, and what makes The Lizzie McGuire Movie look so odd - I mean odd apart from the ripped-off plot from Roman Holiday, the dreadful acting, the terrible script, the putrid jokes, a leading lady who, it would appear, aspires to be a sponge, and ham-fisted direction that makes Wyler look like Billy Wilder - is that the story involves lots of American high-school kids going on a school trip to Rome. As if! At one stage in the film, the teacher in charge of these kids even walks around the streets of Rome with a little American flag on a stick, which leads one to wonder if Lizzie and her dim-witted friends come from a part of the United States that hasn't yet heard of 9/11. Certainly none of them seems infected with the paranoia that afflicts many of their fellow citizens. Given that the movie was made this year, what is even more surprising is that the American characters are just as popular abroad as they have always been - as if their pockets were filled with candy for the kids, silk stockings for the girls and cigarettes for the guys. You might think that America was the most peace-loving nation on earth.

All of which prompts me to speculate (anxiously, I might add) that in the future, Americans may do most of their European travel vicariously, through movies such as this, on the basis that it's a whole lot safer than doing it for real. Cheaper, too. After all, how many kids on school trips (even Americans) get to stay in swanky hotel rooms that look like they must cost at least $600 per night? Even better, in a movie, you can fly direct to Italy from the US on airlines that don't actually do this for real: here, Lizzie and her friends fly to Italy on Lufthansa. But so what? It's a movie, right, and an American movie at that. Lufthansa's a European airline, and Italy's in Europe, so what the heck? You see how movies make travel so much simpler?

Now I'm betting you haven't heard of Lizzie McGuire, nor of Hilary Duff, who plays Lizzie in the Disney Channel's hottest TV show that inspired this Douglas Bader of a movie. The well-named Duff plays a Britney Spears lookalike who sings and looks as cute as a bubblegum Bardot. Like I say, the gossamer-thin plot is pure Roman Holiday, right down to the exhilarating ride around Rome on the back of Handsome Boy's scooter. But sadly, I have an awful feeling that Duff is going to be a big star and that, in five years' time, you won't be able to get away from her wholesome little face. She's already been on the cover of Vanity Fair, which dubbed her "the tween queen". What's that? I hear you ask. Why, tween queen: she's 'tween adulthood and childhood: a maiden not human but nymphic - in short, a nymphet. And just in case you think I throw these reviews together, it's worth mentioning that Hilary Duff serves on the board of the Audrey Hepburn Child Benefit Trust. I'm sure she is a very nice girl, but, truth to tell, every time she opened her perfect mouth to sing yet another anodyne song about Rome, or amore, or a big pizza pie, I had this Gregory Peck-like desire to put my fist all the way inside it, as far as it would go, right up to the middle of my forearm. You get the picture.

The Lizzie McGuire Movie (U) is on general release