'Clueless,' actually, has more than its share

THE BALTIMORE SUN

A hilarious "clued-in" comedy about cellular-phone-packing Beverly Hills high schoolers, Amy Hecker- ling's "Clueless" sports a terrific cast, sparkling dialogue loaded with slang and a hip soundtrack of pop tunes. OK, it's also plotless and borderline brainless, but that won't stop the Paramount release from cashing in substantially with the teen-age and young adult crowd.

Alicia Silverstone ("The Crush") plays rich, spoiled, sweet-natured Cher, our guide into a world where self-assured but likable brats try to make over those with less refined tastes while struggling down the always-rocky road to maturity. A "Betty" who is less interested in finding a "Baldwin" for herself than with engaging in charitable "projects" involving those around her, Cher is the best-dressed, most popular girl at Beverly Hills High School.

And she works at it, starting with her cavernous closet full of clothes and the computer program that helps her to pick just the right outfit. Critical but not obnoxious about the different cliques at school, Cher hangs mainly with longtime friend Dionne (Stacey Dash). When a frumpy new girl (Brittany Murphy) arrives, the duo leaps into action with glee.

Along with glamorizing the newcomer and trying to hook her up with the suave Elton (Jeremy Sisto), Cher and Dionne successfully arrange a romance between two lovelorn teachers (Wallace Shawn and Twink Caplan) that proves beneficial to the entire student body. Tension at home comes in the form of Cher's attractive "ex-stepbrother" Josh (Paul Rudd), a college freshman who has graduated to reading Nietzsche by the pool and watching the evening news but also enjoys baiting Cher.

When her protege begins to eclipse her popularity, and the lack of a boyfriend spurs Cher to try to seduce a well-dressed dreamboat (Justin Walker), the confused virgin loses her confidence. The resolution is a crowd-pleaser but predictable. The fun is getting there.

With her wondrous good looks and boundless energy, Ms. Silverstone breezes through the film with a confident, star-making performance. Among the many fine supporting players, Paul Rudd is a standout, while Ms. Murphy handles her character's transformation with gusto. Several of the biggest laughs come from Cher's cranky father (Dan Hedaya), a top-drawer litigator whose deadpan responses to his daughter's entreaties are hilarious reality checks.

Tolerant and optimistic, a little wicked but not too subversive, Ms. Heckerling's film is a welcome change of pace for the filmmaker after "Look Who's Talking" and its first sequel. A return to the controlled chaos of "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," "Clueless" is put together well and rarely pauses long enough for one to dwell on its shortcomings.

'CLUELESS'

Directed by Amy Heckerling

Starring Alicia Silverstone, Stacey Dash, Brittany Murphy and Paul Rudd

Released by Paramount

Rated PG-13 (sex, language)

***

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