The switch is back
The first film introduced us to Margaret, Duchess of Montenaro (Vanessa Hudgens), and Chicago baker Stacy (Vanessa Hudgens), who switched places to experience life in each other's shoes (AKA: smooching each other's boyfriends). The second film introduced Margaret's identical cousin Fiona Pembroke (Vanessa Hudgens), who attempted to seize the throne with a sort of switcheroo prank heist. Now, Stacy and Margaret are jointly heading an international Christmas festival, for which the Vatican has provided a truly hideous jewel-encrusted star to top the tree (the fact that the European countries that have been confirmed to exist in this universe are Montenaro, Belgravia, and Vatican City, speaks to what strangely Jesus-y undercurrents this particular entry has). When the star is stolen by a hotel magnate/art thief, they must bust Fiona out of her community service to help get it back. Of course, events contrive so that they all must impersonate Fiona to have her be in multiple places at once.
The Princess Switch 3: Romancing the Star only had to do one thing to be a success in my eyes: add another Vanessa Hudgens. The frustrating thing is, the film clearly knows that this is what it needs to do. Any time a new character is introduced, they're looking away from the camera and slowly turn to face us. So every time you think, "Is this professional heist man/middle-aged-woman/nun gonna be Vanessa Hudgens?" and every time the movie shoves your face into the mud, where it belongs if you decided to click "play" on this movie. Because of this film's clear failure to deliver on literally the easiest promise, even the campiest swings of the plot fall flat. Sure, I would love to enjoy the horny angry tango that is juxtaposed with another Vanessa Hudgens sexily shimmying through a field of lasers and goes on for way too long, but where is my fourth Hudgens? Every minute the film forces out of your life without introducing one feels like a personal affront.
When you're left without a hook to hang your proverbial hat on, it's easy to be reminded of how unnaturally empty these movies are. And I'm not just talking about Vanessa Hudgens' inability to play an emotion other than "nice," which hampers this film's unusually heavy attempt at a redemption narrative for Fiona, involving a backstory crammed full of some truly Dickensian tragic nonsense. The Princess Switch 3 is just inert, with a go-nowhere plot and long pauses between lines of dialogue even in scenes that didn't have the technical considerations of splicing three different Hudgenses into the same room.
The only thing this movie is full of is Christmas-themed production design, which is at least something for you to lock your eye onto. Like all the best stupid holiday movies, every surface of every room is lined with tinsel and there are at least 3 Christmas trees visible in the room, no matter the angle of the camera. There's only so much enjoyment one can wrest out of ludicrous set dressing, however.
Unfortunately, I can't hate this movie, because just like Love Hard, The Princess Switch 3 allows viewers to achieve a kind of meditative state of unruffled holiday sweetness. You will never be challenged by this movie or pricked by any of its oh-so-smooth edges. Unfortunately, Netflix has achieved a Marvel-like ability to polish their films to an identical sheen, except their goals are even less lofty. Marvel has managed, for the most part, to pin their quality range down to between 5/10 and 7/10, whereas Netflix is content to just avoid being 2/10. However, if they just dug in and allowed these films to be as terrible as they clearly want to be, they'd be a hell of a lot more fun.
This one does get the closest to failing at the company's formula, though, because of the inherent brokenness at the core of the premise. At the end of the day, however un-unpleasant it may be to watch, The Princess Switch 3 tastes like peppermint and broken promises.
Brennan Klein is a millennial who knows way more about 80's slasher movies than he has any right to. He's a former host of the Attack of the Queerwolf podcast and a current senior movie/TV news writer at Screen Rant. You can find his other reviews on his blog Popcorn Culture. Follow him on Twitter or Letterboxd, if you feel like it.