Well, if nothing else, Vanessa Hudgens seems to be having a blast with these “Princess Switch” holiday movies for Netflix.
As the original and sequels have rolled out, she’s been called on to not just play a Chicago baker who switches places with lesser European royalty, a princess who looks just like her. She’s playing that royal’s “evil cousin,” the clothes horse Cruella knock-off, Fiona.
“Princess Switch 2” introduced Fiona as she attempted a coup. As she wasn’t punished for that — nobody is, really — she’s back for “3” where she takes over a “Romancing the Stone” tale where a piece of bejeweled Vatican decor, “The Star of Peace,” has been stolen by tycoon who adores such baubles.
“Princess Switch 3: Romancing the Star” is a lame heist picture that traffics in the cliches of the genre, dumbed-down for a kiddie audience, and mainly a vehicle for America’s favorite “High School Musical” alumna to don designer wear, practice her catwalk and curl her lips around the plummy locations of a spoiled villainess.
You can hear a hint of Cruella, a dash of Mae West and a soupcon of Tim Curry’s Dr. Frank-N-Furter from “Rocky Horror” in the gulped, sneering insouciance she brings to every over-the-top line.
“I need to borrow a car, preferably a ‘rari that matches my Manolos!” “Let’s make some merry, shall we?”
Princess now Queen Margaret and look-alike pal Stacy, married and hanging with their hubbies (Nick Sagar and Sam Palladio) in scenic, fake-snowy Belgravia, need to take Fiona out of the convent where she’s been sentenced to “community service” because that Papal “Peace” star, meant to top their Christmas tree this year, has been swiped.
Nobody but dastardly Fiona and her minions (Florence Hall, Ricky Norwood) could possibly have the connections to know who took it, and how to get it back.
“No worries, Royal Sixpack. Good news has arrived!”
Fiona’s old Interpol lover (Remy Hii) will help out. That wealthy hotelier Hunter Cunard (Will Kemp) won’t know what hit him, a stolen star stolen back right in of the middle of the posh costume party he throws at his super-secure Belgravian mansion every Christmas season.
That’ll also give Peter the chance to hit on Fiona one last time, and maybe convince Fiona to re-connect with her absentee mother (Amanda Donahoe), the one who made her the greedy mean girl she is today.
Or course events conspire to require Fiona’s two less-larcenous look-alikes to impersonate her on the night of the party. So “The Princess Switch 3: Romancing the Star,” is really about Vanessa Hudgens playing Fiona, and playing Stacy and Margaret playing AT playing Fiona.
The script’s a poor facsimile of the movies it’s stealing from, and that includes the tepid, tinsel-covered treacle that was the original “Princess Switch” and its first sequel.
The money here went to the over-decorated sets, the costumes and Hudgens, who is used to much better effect in a smaller role in “Tick, Tick…Boom!” The “Princess” supporting players are relative unknowns in all of these movies — an economy measure that gives competent actors work, but robs the movie of star sparkle and the sense that anybody of “name” other than Hudgens would want to appear in them.
She may have a good time and suck up all the attention, costumes and plot threads. The little-knowns-to-utterly-unknowns around her? They’re just set dressing.
It’s nothing you blame Hudgens for, unless you figure she should tell her agent that she won’t sign for another sequel unless they spend cash on a co-star of at least some stature.
Donahoe’s the only other recognizable name actor here, and “L.A. Law” was a whole millennium ago.
Hudgens’ times-three star turn — underwritten as every character is — would be more fun if she was surrounded by a supporting cast that could bring laughs, pathos and a little more charisma to the party.
Cast: Vanessa Hudgens, Remy Hii, Sam Palladio, Nick Sagar, Will Kemp, Ricky Norwood, Florence Hall and Amanda Donahoe
Credits: Mike Rohl, scripted by Robin Bernheim Burger, based on characters created by Burger and Megan Metzger. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:46