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IN SHORT: Should be blown away. [Rated R for some language and brief nudity. 90 minutes]
All the uptempo pop music that a soundtrack can muster can't save a movie whose story has no spark. Such is the case with Blow Dry, a film about a national hairdressing competition which had a room full of critics scratching their heads -- because we'd all seen a similarly themed movie a year before and couldn't remember the title. (That's what happens when you see 300 films a year. Consider it a trivia question and we'll provide the answer below. <g>) The competition itself presents a team of two hairdressers with four separate challenges -- men's styling, women's blowdry, evening formal coiffures and a balls to the wall freeform "total look" finale. You can bet that, somewhere along the line, at least one of the challenges will provide a potentially drastic and dramatic turn of events.
On paper, there is enough going on in Blow Dry that it could have been interesting. On the big screen, the film lacks focus. It isn't really sure which of its stories is the one it wants to emphasize, instead giving them all the impact of what would otherwise be subplots. See which of the following strikes you as a story screaming to get through.
The National British Hairdressing Championship has selected the blue collar, so-far-from-urban-civilization-it-might-as-well-be-on-the-moon town of Keighley for its annual competition. Tony, the town's Mayor (Warren Clarke) is thrilled at all the potential publicity the Competition will bring. For some obscure reason, the mayor gets to emcee the contest, which he does in a manner that would make Bill Shatner proud. Could this contest be the Mayor's ticket to stardom? Perhaps a singing career?
It isn't that the preeminent hairdressers in the town are second rate -- Phil Allen (Alan Rickman) was two time national champion until his model Sandra (Rachel Griffiths) ran off the night before a potentially record setting third win . . . with his then-wife Shelley (Natasha Richardson). Phil and Shelley haven't spoken in the ten years since, even though their hair salons occupy adjoining buildings.
Phil and Shelley's son Brian (Josh Hartnett) is stuck in the middle of the conflict. He's partnered with, and set to inherit, his dad's barber shop. Winning the Golden Scissors would be a notch in his belt and, while his dad has no interest in the competition, his mom needs another member for her team. Does Brian put his inheritance in jeopardy by joining his mom or should he stay loyal to dad and keep the extra income he gets by chopping hair down at the local mortuary?
Also at the competition is Ray Roberts (Bill Nighy), the closest thing to an arch-enemy that Phil could have, if Phil gave a darn about competing. Ray treats the Competition like a theatrical performance. He wears more makeup than his model does, has won the last two Nationals and, if he makes the hat trick, the trophy is retired. Or renamed. Or some such significant-to-the-industry thing. Such an accomplishment would give Ray permanent bragging rights whenever he comes to town. Is an old rivalry enough to make Phil pick up his golden scissors and go one more round?
Wait! Ray's daughter Christine (Rachael Leigh Cook) has arrived from America to join her dad's team! It's been a decade since she's seen her father but, more important, it's been ten long years since her seven year old heart started going thumpa-thumpa at the sight of Brian. Could an old case of unfulfilled puppy love be enough to move Christine to trash her dad's dreams?
Well, let's not go that far. Ray and his partner Louis (Hugh Bonneville) are conniving louts, more than willing to sabotage the rest of the haircutters at the competition in a manner they used many years before. Only Phil remembers how they did it, but that was a long time ago. Will he blow the whistle?
If you plant yourself for Blow Dry you would be justified if you condemned us for being overly dramatic in our descriptions above. We didn't exaggerate any of the plot points and stand by our words that, as we wrote, there's story potential screaming for release in the above. It never happens. None of the potential conflicts pack any punch. We can't complain about a lack of chemistry between Cook and Hartnett because the script won't let itself explore that direction. Rickman and Richardson's talents are wasted. Griffiths gets one spectacular scene notable more for its makeup and costume design than for anything involving acting.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Blow Dry, he would have paid...
The distinguished actor Rosemary Harris has a small part in the film. Her role, as an elderly, blind woman, solves a "crisis" in a story that director Paddy Breathnach fails to build to any critical level. Supermodel Heidi Klum's movie debut serves only to offer the gimmick for which this otherwise forgettable flick receives its "R" rating.
Last year's hairdressing competition movie was called The Big Tease. You'd be better off saving the cash and renting that film at the local vid store.
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