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Review: 'Shallow Hal' cute, but shallow

Paltrow and Black
Gwyneth Paltrow and Jack Black are smitten in "Shallow Hal."  

By Paul Clinton
CNN Reviewer

(CNN) -- The new comedy from the Farrelly brothers, "Shallow Hal," is a one joke pony, and they ride this baby's high concept right into the ground. Hal Larson [Jack Black, best known for his role in "High Fidelity" (2000)] is so shallow he could go deep sea fishing in pond scum. In a word, Hal is a dog. Despite the fact that Hal is desperately lacking in the looks department, he insists on hitting only on supermodels and centerfolds. Needless to say, he's less than successful.

The only person more pitiful than Hal is his pudgy, balding best friend Mauricio (Jason Alexander). Mauricio wears sprayed-on hair and is the last living man still wearing a Members Only jacket. He might as well have "loser" tattooed on his forehead. This pitiful pair spend all their free time trying to pick up gorgeous women at single clubs and bars. Of course, they strike out more often than the Montreal Expos.

Then one day, Hal meets self-help guru Tony Robbins (playing himself). Robbins points out that Hal is looking for love in all the wrong places. He says Hal needs to see the inner beauty of the fairer sex. So presto change-o, Robbins practices a little hypnosis on the hypercritical Hal. Now all Hal sees is that aforementioned inner beauty.

Suddenly Hal is getting lucky everywhere he goes. Women are all over him. But unbeknownst to Hal, he's getting lucky only because he's now batting in a new ball club. He's approaching women with less than stellar looks, and they're so grateful for the attention that they're falling all over themselves to get to him. He's in hog heaven. Literally.

While the world, and Mauricio, are seeing unattractive women with bad skin, stringy hair and excess poundage, Hal is seeing beauty. Much to Mauricio's horror Hal is now dating women who are actually in his league. Hal is ecstatic. Mauricio is appalled.

At this point enter Rosemary (Gwyneth Paltrow), an extremely overweight Peace Corps volunteer. Rosemary is under no illusions about her weight, so she's somewhat confused over Hal's attention. When he guesses her weight at about 110 pounds, she wants to know which butt cheek he's referring to. Here is the film's main conceit -- the audience, and Hal, see Gwyneth as she really is with only an occasional glimpse of her in a fat suit. Yes folks, real beauty is not only skin deep -- it can reach through two-and-a-half feet of fat. Many overweight people might find it hard to get the joke here, but the Farrelly brothers insist they're not making fun of fat people in this film, an assertion some will find hard to swallow.

Now the film goes into a full "boy finds girl, boy loses girl" mode as Mauricio tracks down Robbins and gets him to give him the secret phrase that will bring Hal out of his hypnotic state. Faster than you can say Jenny Craig, Hal is relieved of his illusions and begins to avoid Rosemary. Of course he discovers that he really does love her, fat and all, and the film concludes with his desperate efforts to win her back.

Light and fluffy -- pun intended -- "Shallow Hal" is amusing at times. Paltrow, Black and Alexander all hit their marks, and deliver perfect comedic timing. But, as is often the case, if you've seen the trailer, you've seen the best of the movie, and there isn't really that much good stuff to go around.

"Shallow Hal" opens nationwide on Friday, November 9 and is rated PG-13.


• Shallow Hal - Official Movie site

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