After weeks of testosterone-fueled action flicks, "Legally Blonde" claims equal time for estrogen-enhanced comedies. 

Blonde Ambition

Legally Blonde" plays like a heartfelt cross between "Malibu Barbie Passes the Bar" and "Clueless: the Sequel." It's easy, breezy, beautiful for sure, but it's also not nearly original enough or daring enough to make it more than an innocuous footnote to this summer's cinema season.

And were it not for Reese Witherspoon's naturally engaging ways in front of a camera, "Legally Blonde" wouldn't be half as entertaining as it is.

Beaming star power from every burnished and luminized follicle on her pretty little head, Witherspoon manages the near impossible — making a stereotypical dumb blonde likable instead of irritating. In her most accomplished satirical performance since "Election," Witherspoon is nothing short of delightful. Even when it's obvious the writers have run out of ideas, Witherspoon's good-natured charms keep us dialed in.

Now don't get me wrong, "Legally Blonde" is a minor movie. And I'm not just referring to its PG-13 rating. Director Robert Luketic's feature debut is hamstrung by a lame, overly predictable story line. "Legally Blonde" may have several clever ideas in its well-manicured head, but the mildly engaging silliness of its premise never mines its darker roots. Attempts to turn the movie into something more substantial and meaningful never quite work.

We're introduced to Elle Woods in a lengthy pseudotracking shot that brings us onto the CULA campus (uh, think UCLA only skewed) and into the Delta Nu Sorority house. A house where more living space is given to fitness equipment than studying, dining or sleeping. It's special day for sorority prez Elle; she thinks longtime boyfriend Warner Harrington III (Matthew Davis) is about to propose. But as only happens in movies like this, Warner wants to break up. You see, he plans on being elected to the U.S. Senate by the age of 30, and as he heads to Harvard Law, he can't be saddled with the burden of an L.A. airhead for a wife.

But the movie quickly establishes that Elle is no airhead. She may appear the quintessential bimbo-in-training, but don't count her out. Against all logic, Elle decides the answer to winning Warner back is joining him in the hallowed halls of Harvard's Law School. In one of the funnier montages in the movie, Elle sets out with her usual optimism to pass the LSAT and win admission to Harvard based on her personal, poolside video application. Putting her blondness to good use, she finds herself enrolled. Besides the obvious clash of East coast and West Coast sensibilities, Elle finds herself facing the toughest competition of her life. Here, scented pink paper and a winning smile do little to smooth the way.

As Elle slowly but surely wins over professors and their teaching assistants (in particular Luke Wilson), the movie sets up an absurd secondary plot about a former sorority sister on trial for murdering her wealthy, older hubby. Ditching her books to help the professor defend the woman, Elle comes to realize what the law and lawyers are all about. As smart as she wants to be, Elle becomes the trial's secret weapon. For once, a lifetime spent pouring through fashion magazines and sitting under hair dryers pays off.

Despite Luketic's ungainly handling of the movie's broad humor, he never forgets that he's got a thoroughbred in Witherspoon, and he gives her free rein. In turn, Witherspoon takes full advantage of this generosity.

She's on-screen almost the movie's entire running time, and it's a testament to her charms that she leaves us wanting more. Winning and wonderful as a young woman who has her life all figured out only to watch it fall apart, Witherspoon takes Elle smoothly from a dumb-blond joke to a feel-good heroine and role model. Now that's talent.


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