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TBS's "First Daughter" suffers from an unsatisfying identity crisis

Disney it Ain't

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"First Daughter"
TBS
Sunday, Aug. 15 at 8 p.m.
Repeats Aug. 21 and 22. Let's call this one "Old Yeller at the Devil's Half Mile … Without the Dog." We're talking Bad Disney. And no cuddly critter. The TBS original movie, "First Daughter" is a 5 on a scale of 10 — mediocre and ultimately as unsatisfying as a shower with a raincoat on. The title refers to the president's daughter, in this case the blond, blue-eyed troublemaker from "Dawson's Creek," Monica Keena. For these purposes, she's Jess Hayes, daughter of President Jonathan Hayes (Gregory Harrison, who it seems will do anything for a ticket back to the big time), who is protected by Secret Service agent Alex McGregor, played by Mariel Hemingway (and who among us will ever forget "Star 80"?). This wannabe action thriller, which labors earnestly yet messes up its two biggest special effects scenes, starts with Alex on the presidential detail at a cocktail soiree in Beverly Hills. When the president and his entourage are violently attacked by a well-armed group of mountain men calling themselves "The American Freedom Fighters," Alex saves the widowed president's life via unorthodox means. But instead of a promotion, Alex is demoted for defying policy … and assigned to protect young Jess on a whitewater river-rafting vacation. That's where "First Daughter" veers away from Action Thriller and moves in a direction that at times will make your teeth hurt. Jess is at that awkward-teen age and resents being protected. At Alex's suggestion, the president treats her to a holiday in the wilderness with no publicity and minimal protection (and "Melrose Place's" Doug Savant as the guide). Jess has a wonderful time and even meets a boy who doesn't know who she is. Jess likes him for that, and Monica shows us her vulnerable side. Then things flop back toward Action Thriller again. In a completely unexpected (yeah, right) development, the "Freedom Fighters" happen upon the rafting party, shoot it up and kidnap Jess with the idea of swapping her for one of their leaders who was locked up by the Feds after the Beverly Hills attack. Where is that little yellow puppy when you need him? Because that's all that's missing from this Pollyanna-"Beaver Valley"-Rin-Tin-Tin mix-up — a dog to make things come out right. If "First Daughter" would only decide what it is, what it wants to be, there might be a nugget of entertainment to be mined. It could be either a daddy's-spoiled-little-girl-grows-up movie, or a Mel Gibson movie or even "Eloise" at a stretch. But director Armand Mastroianni, who just had to get "He Knows You're Alone" out of his system back in 1980, doesn't know which way to go, and writers Chris and Carey Hayes don't offer much help. Stunning white-water scenery and a wild ride down the treacherous Devil's Half Mile — which is really in a patch of wilderness three hours out of Sydney, Australia, where TBS shot the film — provide the movie's few moments of interest. But say! Isn't that a big yellow dog swimming through the rapids to save us? Alas, if only it

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