Set in Tudor England, Mark Twain's original story has peasant boy Tom Canty swap identities with the future Edward VI. Alexander Korda produced an early silent film while subsequent screen versions range from the 1937 Errol Flynn vehicle co-starring twins Billy Mauch and Bobby Mauch, to It Takes Two (1995) an unaccredited adaptation starring Mary-Kate Olsen and Ashley Olsen. Walt Disney Studios' first bash at Twain's story was a three-part television serial in 1962 starring Sean Scully, followed thirty years later by their animated short The Prince and the Pauper (1992), a screen comeback for Mickey Mouse. Recently, Disney produced this updated version as a vehicle for the Sprouse twins, stars of the Disney Channel sitcom The Suite Life of Zack & Cody.
Movie star Eddie Tudor (Cole Sprouse) hates being a celebrity and wants to experience life as a normal kid. Orphan Tom Canty (Dylan Sprouse) dreams of becoming an actor, much to the annoyance of his grouchy grandpa (Ed Lauter), although their neighbour, washed-up film star Miles Henlon (Vincent Spano) gives encouragement. The look-alikes make friends when Tom sneaks onto the set of Eddie's latest movie Spy Teen 3. Eddie impulsively decides to swap identities, leaving Tom to handle some dangerous stunts and his pushy showbiz mom (Dedee Pfeiffer). Unfortunately, Eddie finds a normal life of hard work and high school drama to tough to handle, but no-one will believe he is really a movie star. Meanwhile, Tom charms the film crew and his leading lady Elizabeth (Kay Panabaker) with his hard work and good manners, but buckles under the scrutiny of the press. Things go further awry when the production leaves Palm Beach for Miami, forcing Eddie into drastic measures to get his life back.
This typically slick Disney TV movie throws in a speedboat vs. helicopter chase and a Benny Hill style speeded up comedy climax that probably didnt occur to Mr. Twain. As contemporary updates go, the potential is there but the film crawls by with a tedious amount of padding. Cole and Dylan Sprouse - who interestingly, first played together in the very un-Disney-like The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things (2004) directed by Asia Argento! - are personable enough, but we never sense their characters are learning anything throughout their journey, even though the treacly, all-hugs finale tells us otherwise.
Like so many recent Disney movies, from Bolt (2008) to Hannah Montana (2009), this is about surviving showbiz. In an interesting role-reversal, Eddie's mom is the aggressive, inconsiderate go-getter while his agent (Sally Kellerman) is the voice of moral reason. With the Miles Hendon character rewritten as a burnt-out film star, the plot muses how bad behaviour can bite you in the ass when fame turns sour. A late-hour twist reveals Miles true identity, but the most poignant scene involves him meeting a cop who delights in reminding him what a selfish jerk he was when he was famous. "Be gracious. Treat people with respect", is how Miles summarises the film's theme, although the script weaves in those old Disney standards: be true to yourself and appreciate those who love you. You sense actor-turned-director James Quattrochi and actress-turned-screenwriter/producer Amanda Moresco wanted to weave a cautionary fable for today's media-savvy children, but beyond limp gags and trite platitudes have little idea how to so. An air of aimlessness hangs about the haphazard storytelling. At one point Eddie is enamoured with a girl who performs in the high school drama club, which looks set to develop into a sub-plot where he'll rediscover a love of acting. Except no, Eddie grows bored and stomps off.
Kay Panabaker is wasted in a slight role that gives producers an excuse to shoehorn another Disney star in there. Although the most beautiful girl he's ever seen becomes Tom's confidante, romance goes nowhere and Panabaker disappears well before the climax. And what's with that dull end credits coda where the boys play football with Miles? There's more wit and pep in your average episode of Suite Life than this.