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Bald fact: 'Blow Dry' not funny

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Formula film

Ridiculous do's, plans

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(CNN) -- Talk about aiming for a specific audience. If, for some bizarre reason, you think hair styling is an inherently uproarious activity, you'll be duly impressed with "Blow Dry," a tedious comedy about a small town that hosts something called The National British Hairdressing Championship.

Simon Beaufoy, who hit the mother lode by penning 1997's mildly entertaining "The Full Monty," wrote "Blow Dry"'s anemic script. That probably explains the initial interest of a team of talented actors. It doesn't, however, explain why they cared to actually participate in such an ineffective button-pusher. Alan Rickman stars as Phil Allen, a former hairstyling big shot who's spent the past several years running a tiny salon in Keighley, an economically depressed town in Northern England's Yorkshire. Phil, who works alongside his hunky teen-age son, Brian (Josh Hartnett), no longer likes to get fancy when cutting hair. In an attempt to pay the rent and keep on drinking, he sticks mostly to "short, back and sides."

Even though he once walked off with styling's top prize, Phil has no intention of entering the upcoming competition. Brian, on the other hand, is interested. In one of the self-consciously quirky digressions that permeate the script, he practices his craft by cutting and dyeing the hair of corpses at the local funeral home. You know you're in trouble when one of the comic highlights of a movie is a dead man with an inappropriate Johnny Rotten hairdo. We soon discover that Phil slid into his ongoing funk 10 years earlier, when his wife and partner, Shelley (Natasha Richardson), left him for their hair model, Sandra (Rachel Griffiths.)

Formula film

The British working-class milieu has been milked dry by a handful of films in recent years, almost all of which operate on an interchangeable set of circumstances. You need a derelict fiscal atmosphere, a squabbling couple and an underdog who's trying to turn his or her life around.

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And, if you're hoping to jerk the all-important tears, someone has to have recently died, or at least be bravely knocking at death's door. Richardson drew the short straw this time.

In a subplot that bears little resemblance to anything else in the movie, Shelley has been diagnosed with terminal Hodgkin's disease, a fact she keeps secret from Sandra. When things start to drag, director Peter Catteano has no qualms at all about cranking up the lonely music while Shelley weeps like a baby. When you consider that "Blow Dry"'s overall tone is more like the dog-breeding comedy "Best in Show" (2000), these sudden flare-ups of emotion are disorienting at best and baldly manipulative at worst.

It doesn't take a genius to recognize that someone or something has to force Phil and Shelly to respect each other again. The instigator eventually shows up in the person of Ray Roberts (Bill Nighy), Phil's conniving former rival. Ray is the current emperor of the hair-cutting world, and he'll stop at nothing -- including boring the audience to tears with a lot of so-so shtick -- to maintain his crown.

Ridiculous do's, plans

Phil and Shelly decide to team up and stop him. Ray's daughter, Christine (certifiable cutie Rachael Leigh Cook), is also along for the ride. She knew Brian years ago, so that means there's a plucky romance for the teens in the audience. You can just about hear a little "bing" every time another commercial-friendly situation arises.

Most of the picture is occupied with the competition itself, which turns out to be a thoroughly unbelievable round-robin of styling, gawking, and giggling. The hairdos are so ridiculous, you'd think the judges would call it a draw and send everyone home. It doesn't help matters that Ray's underhanded plans to win the title seem to have been thought up by The Three Stooges.

The only thing about this movie that isn't flat as a pancake is Heidi Klum, who makes a couple of quick appearances as (you guessed it) a pampered model with an atom-bomb body. Klum is one of the few supermodels who's genuinely funny and likeable when she appears on talk shows, but she'll need meatier roles than this if she wants a film career.

Here's a hint for any fledgling actresses who may be reading this: You shouldn't have to make your movie debut with your pubic hair dyed red and cut into the shape of a heart. Regardless of what they tell you, there's not an Oscar category for that one.

"Blow Dry" is really pretty tame. There's some profanity and Klum does a mini-striptease that could cause heart attacks. Rated R. 90 minutes.



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