I didn’t think it possible that Hilary Duff could sink any lower than her last film, Raise Your Voice. I had not reckoned on the combined talents of producer Ma Duff (sure, she’s Hilary’s manager, but how does that qualify her as a producer?), Duffian directorial favorite Mark Rosman and this appalling screenplay by Gena Wendkos (The Princess Diaries).
The screenplay’s the worst of it, though the failure by anyone associated with the movie to notice its loathsomeness should make them guilty by association. The story — which is grounded in the real-life exploits of co-author Heather Robinson — is simply vile, sometimes downright creepy, and it features for its leads two of the most selfish, self-centered, reprehensible and possibly unhinged characters imaginable.
First, there’s mom, Jean Hamilton (Heather Locklear), who in her own mind doesn’t seem to exist unless she has a man to validate her. And just about any man will do, it seems, since she has the character judgment of a mentally challenged 3-year-old. Not only does she fall for guys with the word “loser” boldly emblazoned on their foreheads, but when things go wrong — as they invariably do — she gathers up her family and moves to another state.
Said family consists of Holly (Hilary Duff) and Zoe (newcomer Aria Wallace). To judge by appearances, Zoe appears to be the love child of Jean and the father of the kid in the Stuart Little movies, and she seems rather normal in comparison to Holly, who is a clear case of the apple not falling too far from the tree. As soon as the family is uprooted and carted away to Brooklyn — a Brooklyn where a huge, beautifully appointed apartment on a tree-lined street of brownstones fits the budget of a woman who bakes and decorates cakes in a grocery store for a living — mom gets set to fall into the arms of yet another dubious prospect.
That prospect is Lenny (TV actor Mike O’Malley), who uses pickup lines involving whether or not it hurt when Jean fell from heaven, plays air guitar with loaves of bread, dotes on his 1980 Trans-Am, and whose idea of a hot date is going to see a Styx tribute band. Not unreasonably, Holly sees this as a disaster waiting to happen. Less reasonably, she decides to invent a secret admirer for good old mom.
This she does with the help of her new best friend, Amy (Canadian TV actress Vanessa Lengies doing a truly appalling Leo Gorcey impression to prove she’s from Brooklyn), and — unwittingly — her upscale Uncle Ben (Sex and the City‘s Chris Noth). He’s supposedly an expert on women, you see, so he supplies tips for all the “right things” the imaginary Perfect Man would do. This advice mostly consists of jaw-dropping cliches about sending orchids and handing out CDs of generic techno music that makes Styx — even in tribute-band form — sound pretty good. But Ben’s really an amazing sophisticate who listens to Django Reinhardt CDs at home and does the New York Times crossword in pen.
No one’s feelings are spared in the creation of this imaginary lover. Holly will drag anyone into her warped plot; she even makes her wannabe boyfriend (newcomer Ben Feldman) pretend to be him on the phone. That this might be — oh, I don’t know … incredibly cruel — doesn’t occur to her. Hell, she’ll even pretend to be Mr. Right online in an instant-messaging session with mom (thank God this movie’s rated PG, or what is here merely creepy could have become downright icky).
And Holly’s none too bright, either: She sends mom a photo of the real Ben, mindless of the fact that the guy runs a high-profile restaurant in Brooklyn and the two might meet. This sets up a supposedly cute comic sequence where Holly sets off the fire sprinklers in the restaurant to keep them from meeting. That this would result in thousands and thousands of dollars in property damage — not to mention lawsuits from the clientele and lost income for however long it would take to make the place habitable afterwards — is never addressed.
But Holly is such a dear (a dear sociopath maybe) that we’re supposed to be charmed. Given the messages sent by this purportedly family-friendly movie, I’d rather take a child to see Sin City. That it is otherwise weak tea and a compendium of movie cliches is almost beside the point, lost in the deluge of wrong-headedness that floods the film. Rated PG for some mildly suggestive content.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke