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by: Michael Dequina

While watching the teen comedy She's All That, I fondly recalled the heyday of the Ricki Lake show a couple of years back, when just about every episode of the gabfest dealt with self-absorbed people who thought they were, well, all that. What a field day Ricki's then-notoriously rowdy audience would have with the makeover of the film's Laney Boggs, a frumpy, long-haired high school geek who turns chic after a touch of makeup, wardrobe overhaul, and, most importantly, a haircut. To paraphrase the title of one of my favorite Ricki episodes, "You may have lost all that hair, but you are not all that."

The failure of the makeover in question is quite surprising, considering the fact that the actress playing Laney, Rachael Leigh Cook, is actually quite attractive, as briefly seen in last fall's Living Out Loud and in She's All That's poster. Be it makeup, styling, or whatever, Laney doesn't look quite so "all that" in her first post-makeover appearance, gussied up in a flaming red dress, matching high heels, and a shorter 'do. This sounds like a minor quibble, but the entire film hinges upon it, for the next day at school social outcast Laney not only finds herself to suddenly popular, but also a nominee for prom queen.

While this comes as a surprise to Laney, it's actually a calculated move by soccer team stud Zack Siler (Freddie Prinze Jr.), who, recently jilted by his diva girlfriend Taylor Vaughan (Jodi Lyn O'Keefe), makes a bet with his friends that he can turn the seemingly hopeless Laney into the prom queen. As one can expect, as he brings the swan out of his ugly duckling, Zack begins to feel something genuine for Laney, and her for him.

A rather far-fetched plot that has been done in one, way, shape, or form many a time, but what makes it especially difficult to believe in She's All That is that Zack never really does anything for Laney. His sister Mackenzie (a heavily made-up Anna Paquin) is the one who gives her the life-altering makeover, and Zack's most dramatic "show of support" is actually a defense of Laney's brother Simon (Kieran Culkin). Factor in a lack of sparks between Prinze and Cook, and one is left with a romantic comedy with little in the way of romance.

On the other hand, neither is there much comedy on display, either, with the only successful bits coming from the wild overacting of Matthew Lillard as Taylor's new beau Brock Hudson, and some savvy satire of MTV's The Real World, of which Brock is a former cast member; one big gross-out gag is just that, and not particularly funny. Other laughs are to be had, but they are of the unintentional variety, stemming from the sloppiness of director Robert Iscove and writer R. Lee Fleming Jr. The hairpiece that Cook wears during Lacey's long hair stage is hilariously obvious; a choreographed set piece at the prom is apparently designed to be "good," but it's more bizarre than anything else, especially the moves. Sloppiest of all is the inclusion of R&B sensation Usher Raymond in the completely superfluous role of the school DJ. Watching his scenes, I suspect that he was spliced in after principal photography had already been completed: most of his scenes are by himself, and the one scene that shows his character with others--the prom--intercuts solo closeup shots of him with distant ones of the crowd.

Perhaps the saddest thing about She's All That is that it's designed as a breakout showcase for Cook, who is a natural and likable young actress. I hope that this weak effort won't put a damper on her career, and she will be given a more worthy vehicle where she can show that she could very well be all that.

RATING: ** (out of *****)


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