The Wrong Duff

Columbus Alive | June 16, 2005
If there’s any perfection in this ’tween-targeted comedy, it’s the kind that comes from mass production, the finely honed process that can fabricate the same plastic chair over and over. In fact, if someone had given the starring role to a plastic chair instead of Hilary Duff, it might have made the movie more interesting.

Duff is Holly Hamilton, the eldest daughter of Heather Locklear’s Jean, a baker who has bad taste in men and a habit of bolting to another city when a relationship goes south. Holly’s sick of being uprooted, and when Jean starts dating a Styx-loving loser at work within days of moving to Brooklyn (the film’s funniest joke is a cameo by Dennis DeYoung as the lead singer of a Styx tribute band), Holly’s determined to derail the new relationship.

Conveniently, her new best friend has a dreamy uncle Ben (Chris Noth) who owns a local bistro and seems to know a lot about making women happy. Holly first takes his advice, then without telling him, she assumes his personality to woo her mother through flowers, letters and e-mails.

Like Freaky Friday, the movie enters a weird area as identities are confused in inappropriate romantic combinations, but nothing weird or otherwise makes much of an impact. It’s too sunny and its characters are too superficial.

Locklear doesn’t really do desperation believably, but she’s generally competent, while Noth, in a shamefully written part (courtesy of Coyote Ugly scripter Gina Wendkos), heroically maintains a straight face through lines like, “When a woman gets an orchid, it’s like she’s floating on a cloud of infinite possibility.”

At the center, Duff conveys the emotion and conviction of a spokesperson, hawking her character’s traits instead of absorbing them: the funky clothes, the sassy comebacks, the irritating blogging that doubles as voiceover. She’s manufactured to appeal to the masses, and like everything else in this attempt at entertainment, she’s disposable.

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