Dir: Martha Coolidge. US. 2004. 110 mins.

The Prince & Me is a contemporary fairy tale romance which will enchant pre-teen and teenage girls around the world, but few else. If that core demographic signs up at the box office this weekend in North America, girl power will likely follow suit internationally. And a strong domestic opening is indeed on the cards given Paramount's muscular positioning of the film as counter-programming to Walking Tall and Hellboy, not to mention the popularity of the film's star Julia Stiles, who gave the studio a big hit three years ago with Save The Last Dance.

Lions Gate Films International, which has already sold the film around the world, will be banking on US success to launch the picture, since Stiles' name is as yet of little value overseas.

Roman Holiday it ain't. Borrowing from that picture and myriad Prince Charming fantasies with shameless abandon, The Prince & Me just about has enough charm to overcome its structural problems and a shortage of conflict in its over-extended running time. That's largely down to Stiles and a heartthrob-making turn from British dreamboat Luke Mably as her prince.

The problem is that it can't make up its mind whether to be unabashed romantic fantasy or politically correct contemporary fable instructing girls not to give up their careers for love. Stiles, who ironically played a college student jettisoning her career in favour of wifely duties in last year's Mona Lisa Smile, is now the midwestern girl prepared to throw over her love match with royalty for her career.

The two meet at an Indiana university where she is studying to be a doctor and he is trying to blend incognito in the student population to escape the paparazzi and his nagging parents - the king and queen of Denmark.

She is Paige Morgan, an uptight workaholic who won't let herself have fun, he is Prince Edgar aka Eddie who falls hard for her, especially since she initially rebuffs his attentions. Soon enough, however, with not much resistance, she falls for him and the two are just about to consummate their affair when the Danish paparazzi catch up with him and his secret is out.

The prince leaves the campus immediately to see his dying father (Fox) and prepare for his imminent coronation, while Paige is furious at his deception, then sad that she might never fall in love like this again. She sets off to Denmark (played by Prague and environs) to retrieve her prince.

The first half of the picture plays much better than the second. While obstacles to their love emerge in the shape of his deception, then his snotty mother Queen Rosalind (Richardson), they fall away quickly and the only conflict comes when Paige decides that she can't devote her life to being Queen of Denmark with the love of her life but must instead return to the US to live out her career fantasy instead. The third act, in particular, in which they are reunited is clumsily handled and poorly paced. Coolidge has maintained such a measured and leisurely pace throughout the film - it is 100 minutes after all - that the hurried finale feels like an afterthought.

Young girls may not care about the film's flaws, so thrilled will they be to have a wish-fullfillment fantasy to fall in love with. Last year's April opener What A Girl Wants starring teenage TV star Amanda Bynes told a similar story (more satisfyingly) and grossed $36m for Warner Bros. Paramount and Lions Gate will be looking to the older Stiles to work her magic - somewhere to the tune of Save The Last Dance's $91.1m.

Prod co: Sobini Films
US dist:
Paramount Pictures
Int'l sales:
Lions Gate Films International (+ 1 310 314 2000)
Exec prods:
Cami Winikoff, Robin Schorr
Mark Amin
Jack Amiel & Michael Begler and Katherine Fugate, from a story by Amin & Fugate
Alex Nepomniaschy
Prod des:
James Spencer
Steven Cohen
Jennie Muskett
Main cast:
Julia Stiles, Luke Mably, Ben Miller, James Fox, Miranda Richardson