The bland blond leading the bland blond.
That's The Perfect Man, starring Heather Locklear as a single mother and master baker with a pathological amorous MO. First, after a period of relentless flirtation, she engages in a dead-end relationship with a not-good-enough or downright doggy man. Next, she takes flight to another city or town, with her two daughters in tow, when the guy inevitably disappoints her.
Her 16-year-old (Hilary Duff) attempts to break the pattern when the family moves to Brooklyn. To prevent her mom (who also has a 6-year-old) from linking up with the ox-like bread man (Mike O'Malley) at her latest workplace -- the sunniest bakery in the borough, or maybe anywhere -- Duff invents an ideal suitor using the words and image of her new best friend's uncle, Chris Noth, the owner of a tasteful bistro.
With Queer Eye for the Straight Guy's Carson Kressley making desperate gay jokes as Noth's bartender, Caroline Rhea putting on a preposterous Brooklyn accent as Locklear's new boss, Noth looking ready for cigar ads, Locklear displaying none of the snap she had even on Spin City, and Vanessa Lengies, a live wire on NBC's American Dreams, barely getting off a spark as Duff's friend, this movie makes it official: No matter how awful, even the networks and basic cable are now officially hipper than the studios.
The movie wants to revive old-fashioned courtship with wordplay and flowers. But the wordplay is just fancy doggerel, and the movie itself is no spring bloom -- just a lousy hybrid of family drama and romantic comedy. It's about Duff getting Locklear to love herself and Duff facing her own fears when she backs off from her obvious soulmate, a sensitive cartoonist in her high school class.
An adolescent embracing her fears is the one thing this movie shares with Batman Begins; the only other major-studio movie opening this week, The Perfect Man is counter-programming of the most blatant and pathetic kind.
In the manner of old-fashioned young adult fiction, this movie keeps any real emotional connections at arm's length: Director Mark Rosman and screenwriter Gina Wendkos manage most of the story's revelations through Duff's blog or the characters' use of e-mail. The other twists are the sort that make an audience turn on a picture -- like a smart character stupidly mistaking one man's female buddy for his lover or fiancee.
It's understandable that watching the Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan sudsbuster You've Got Mail (1998) made classic-movie lovers feel nostalgic for its genius prototype, Ernst Lubitsch's The Shop Around the Corner (1940). What's sad about The Perfect Man is that it makes you nostalgic for You've Got Mail.
Starring Hilary Duff, Heather Locklear, Chris Noth
Directed by Mark Rosman
Released by Universal
Time 96 minutes
Sun Score *1/2