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With: Reese Witherspoon, Luke Wilson, Selma Blair, Matthew Davis, Victor Garber, Jennifer Coolidge, Raquel Welch
Written by: Karen McCullah Lutz, Kirsten Smith, based on the book by Amanda Brown
Directed by: Robert Luketic
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language and sexual references
Running Time: 96
Date: 06/26/2001

Legally Blonde (2001)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Fair Hair Flick

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Say all you will about the animated Dr. Aki Ross in Final Fantasy, nocomputer character will ever be able to live up to the magic of ReeseWitherspoon. From her breakthrough as the superbad Vanessa Lutz in thecool crime B-movie Freeway (1996) to her persnickety perfectionistTracey Flick in the brilliant Election (1999), she's created a galleryof strong characters; funny, potent, nasty, sweet, demure, conniving,and lovely. The only thing she's never been is passive or helpless.

In addition, her script choices have rarely failed. Bookended with those two neo-classics, she fills her resume with: Robert Benton's underrated Twilight, Cruel Intentions, Pleasntville, the straight-to-video crime flick Best Laid Plans that was better than its distributor gave it credit for, Mary Harron's wicked American Psycho, and even a clever cameo in the otherwise forgettable Little Nicky.

She's also recently grown into her face -- with its strong, protruding chin and cheekbones -- turning from a baby into a beautiful movie star. Her turn in Little Nicky required her to spoof a bubble-headed blonde, and she did it brilliantly. It's no surprise that Hollywood came knocking, asking her to reprise a similar character for a starring role.

And, not surprisingly, what worked in the cameo doesn't work full time. Witherspoon does her best here, which is superb (in one scene, a housemate sprays her with perfume and the way she moves her neck to catch every drop is enchanting). But the director and script of Legally Blonde can't be bothered to support her with material worthy of her cleverness and instinct.

Written by Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith (10 Things I Hate About You) and directed by first-timer Robert Luketic, the film begins with a one-line situation comedy joke: bubbleheaded blonde enrolls in Harvard Law School to win back her boyfriend (Matthew Davis). The catch is, of course, that Elle Woods (Witherspoon) is far smarter than anyone gives her credit for. In an early scene, a saleswoman tries to dispose of an overpriced dress on Elle, but Elle knows more than she lets on and double-whammies the saleswoman.

So the movie's two jokes, repeated over and over, consist of Elle proving that she's smarter than people think, and Elle sticking out like a sore thumb among the hallowed walls of Harvard. A couple of these struck me funny: Elle's fuzzy pink phone, and her little Chihuahua, Bruiser, sitting under a hair dryer in a beauty parlor (unfortunately, this dog is the subject of nine or ten similar jokes, which quickly grow tiresome). Most of the others did not.

Predictably, Elle meets someone better than her beloved, third-year law student Emmett, played by the enormously likable Luke Wilson, whose down-home charm beats out an army of generic boy-hunks like Davis. Along with Emmett, Elle's ex-boyfriend, and his new girlfriend (Selma Blair, also in Cruel Intentions), Elle ends up on an actual murder trial, the ending of which is not hard to figure out.

Any fish-out-of-water story like this has plenty of potential to work. For example, the movie could have played more with the cultural significance of blondeness, and the restrictions and advantages thereof. But Hollywood is content sticking with the easy, conventional fish-out-of-water formula established years ago. Legally Blonde had the responsibility, the obligation, to be clever enough to deserve Reese Witherspoon, and it fails.

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