The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement

To watch “The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement,” you should be required not just to have seen its predecessor, but to have LOVED it. Merely having liked it will not be sufficient to carry you through the less-focused, more-useless sequel, and if your disinterest in the subject prevented you from seeing the first film altogether, then surely you have not had a change of heart in the intervening years, unless you have suddenly became a 13-year-old girl.

This is young-girl wish-fulfillment, nothing more than harmless, vicarious fairy-tale living. The 12-to-14-year-old girls who watch it will get to see their representative — Anne Hathaway, returning as Mia Thermopolis, the dowdy teen who discovered she was a princess — kiss cute boys, get treated like royalty, have a wild slumber party, wear beautiful dresses, and have a storybook wedding. The only way the movie could pander more directly to its target audience is if free ponies were being given out at the theater.

It’s been five years, and Mia has just graduated from college and is preparing to take on full-time duties as princess of Genovia, the fictional Swiss-Italio-Franco sovereignty where her grandmother, Clarisse Renaldi (Julie Andrews), reigns. Grandma is stepping down soon for reasons not given (perhaps Genovia’s royalty has a mandatory retirement age), and Mia will take over.

But there’s a snag: Conniving Viscount Mabrey (John Rhys-Davies, in a rare non-troll performance), a member of parliament, points out the little-known and never-enforced and highly implausible rule that any reigning queen of Genovia must be married before she can take the throne. Whom does Mabrey suggest as the alternate successor, since Mia is single? Why, his nephew Sir Nicholas (Chris Pine), of course.

Parliament gives Mia 30 days to get married or forfeit the kingdom to Sir Nicholas. This means we must endure a montage of Mia encountering a variety of ill-suited suitors, including all the obvious ones that you could think of if you were writing this movie, including very old men, very young men, and very dorky men. (Shonda Rhimes, who actually did write the movie — and the Britney Spears film “Crossroads” before it — wins the prize for including, yes, EVERY obvious joke that the average viewer could have come up with herself.)

She settles on the bland Andrew (Callum Blue), Duke of Kentworthy, even though she’s not in love with him, while Nicholas and his uncle seek to sabotage the engagement and prevent the wedding. Mia and Nicholas, being rivals, naturally must fall in love, and once they do, I have to wonder why they don’t just marry each other. Cuz that sure would have gotten the movie over faster.

But never mind. Almost the entire cast from the first film is back, including characters who have no purpose in the new story. This includes Mia’s mother, stepfather and best friend, as well as the “hilarious” hairdresser Paolo (Larry Miller), all of whom sort of stand around the movie with their hands in their pockets waiting for someone to give them something to do.

In fact, this movie is so intent on going nowhere that it actually introduces NEW characters JUST to give them nothing to do! There’s an over-eager young intern training to be head of security, a few new friends for Mia (including one played by Raven-Simone), and Tom Poston — good ol’ Tom Poston, evidently in dire need of work — as a befuddled old Lord, all shoved into the movie and then forgotten.

The director is once again Garry Marshall, and Garry Marshall once again never shot a scene he didn’t like. Even with a running time pushing two hours — lengthy for a kids’ movie — he can’t bear to part with anything. Not the silly slumber party, not the sequence at Mia’s college graduation, nothing. Every last shamelessly slapstick morsel is wedged in here.

Marshall does achieve something noteworthy, though: He has Julie Andrews sing, the first full-fledged public singing she’s done since her ill-fated throat operation in 1997. (She’s done half-singing, half-talking performances a few times since then, but not a complete, honest-to-goodness song.) Her voice, though no longer as rangy as it once was, is still crisp and beautiful. Naturally, Marshall has to ruin it by bringing Raven-Simone in to duet the last half with her; after all, the movie’s audience doesn’t know or care about Julie Andrews. But I bet they’ll be thrilled with Raven!!!!!!!!

Andrews and Hector Elizondo are the highlights of the film, as they were of its predecessor, with Elizondo playing Clarisse’s head of security and secret boyfriend. They are elegant together, and funny.

Anne Hathaway still isn’t doin’ it for me. Put her in all the movies you want, Hollywood, I still don’t think she’s as pretty as I’m supposed to, and the fact that she keeps choosing dumb movies like this one and “Ella Enchanted” doesn’t make her seem any less ordinary to me.

C- (1 hr., 55 min.; G.)