Picks and Pans Review: The Princess and the Marine

updated 02/19/2001 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/19/2001 AT 01:00 AM EST

NBC (Sun., Feb. 18, 9 p.m. ET)

Meriam Al-Khalifa (Marisol Nichols) remarks that she watches too many Meg Ryan movies. Jason Johnson (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) quotes his mother as saying that he watches too many John Wayne movies. If this small-screen dialogue is valid evidence of their big-screen tastes, you'd think the real-life princess and her Marine might be disappointed to see their Romeo and Juliet relationship depicted in a rather ordinary TV drama.

It's 1999, and Jason is stationed in the small Persian Gulf nation of Bahrain. His forbidden romance with Meriam, a member of the Bahraini royal family, hits a snag when the secret police spot the couple's first kiss. (Meriam has told the press that the moment came in a theater. In this version they smooch in the desert, where the lighting is better.) Unwilling to give up his beloved just because they're from two different worlds, Mormon Jason concocts a scheme to disguise Muslim Meriam as a fellow Marine, fly with her to America and tie the knot. "What if they catch us?" Meriam asks. "Failure is not an option," Jason says, perhaps inspired by Apollo 13.

Though Gosselaar (Hyperion Bay) and Nichols (Resurrection Blvd.) are sweet together, the film (shot in Southern California) makes a laughably minimal effort to establish the story's setting. No wonder Meriam wants to escape Bahrain; apparently there's not much to the country besides her house and the capital city's shopping mall. Even sand seems in short supply. Luck Hari does what she can as Meriam's disapproving mother, but Bahraini society has only a bit part to play.

Bottom Line: Less than royal treatment

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