Nearly 80 years ago, Fox Studios invented that surefire movie formula, the three-girls-three adventure. It goes something like this: Take three young women of various temperaments (and/or hair colors). Send them on a mission (and/or to a destination) where they will learn about life (and/or one another) and find a partner (and/or the error of their ways).

Monte Carlo, a cheery teen comedy with Selena Gomez, Leighton Meester, and Katie Cassidy, carries on the studio tradition that includes such classics as How to Marry a Millionaire, Three Coins in the Fountain, and Where the Boys Are. For girls of a certain age (and their mothers), Monte Carlo hits the sweet spot.

Grace (Gomez), a recent high school graduate, and Emma (Cassidy) are Texas hash-house waitresses who for a year have pooled their tips for a Paris vacation. As Emma is slightly older and wilder than Grace (and has a boyfriend, too, played by Cory Monteith of Glee), Grace's mom and stepdad designate Grace's older stepsister, Meg (Meester), to chaperone.

Even before the gals take off, tensions threaten to ground the trio. Uptight Meg, still grieving the loss of her mother, thinks Emma flighty and frivolous. Grace, unhappy that her mother has remarried, thinks Meg an interloper in her family and on her vacation. Emma, a good-time gal, thinks Grace insufficiently adventurous and Meg overly judgmental. After they land, Emma and Meg are frustrated that Grace has booked a budget tour with lousy accommodations and even lousier food. How do you say "hate triangle" in French?

Mal voyage gives way to bon voyage when they miss their bus, get caught in a downpour, and take refuge in a four-star hotel where humble Grace is mistaken for Cordelia Winthrop Scott, a spoiled heiress (is there any other kind in movies?). Think Paris Hilton with a British title and a permanent sneer.

When they see the luxurious suite awaiting Cordelia, the girls risk impersonating an aristocrat for a night. In mistaken-identity movies, that's not breaking the law, it's observing the narrative rules. Besides, Cordelia's designer duds and footwear are a perfect fit for these girls of wildly different frames, and you know what they say about if the shoe fits.

When, the morning after, a limo comes to fetch "Cordelia" for a private jet to Monte Carlo, where she is expected for a charity polo match and ball, the daredevil Emma encourages the stepsisters to go with the flow. They do, all the way to the Mediterranean principality, where love and luxe await.

The actresses are appealing, the settings photogenic (Budapest doubles for Monte Carlo), and the clothes ideal for a triple-Cinderella fantasy. It's not art, but it is entertaining.


Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or crickey@phillynews.com. Read her blog, Flickgrrl, at http://www.philly.com/flickgrrl/.