'The Hottie And The Nottie': Trial By Dire, By Kurt Loder

Paris Hilton in ... never mind.

There's no point in being too hard on "The Hottie and the Nottie." It isn't the kind of movie you go into expecting much, and you won't be going into it anyway, I'm guessing, and you won't be alone in not doing so. Still, the picture manages to deliver so much less than the tiny bit you might anticipate (a weak chuckle, even a wan smile) that it's almost notable.

The film is said to star Paris Hilton. This is not entirely accurate. Paris Hilton is present in it. She's not terrible. She actually has an almost fresh, wholesome glow in her early scenes; it isn't until later that she starts reverting to the glazed red-carpet smirk with which we're all familiar. Still, Hilton has no more business being in a movie than she does in, say, a recording studio. Her brittle media persona is all she has to work with; characterization is simply not something for which she's equipped.

First-time feature director Tom Putnam seems to have anticipated this very large problem. The picture is designed mostly to revolve around Hilton, in the manner of a Maypole dance. The other actors frolic with the flat dialogue and desultory action, leaving the nominal star to simper and coo in a possibly fetching but consistently uninteresting way.

The story is silly, which needn't have been a drawback — it might have served as the basis for a frothy romantic fantasy. Unfortunately, the script (by first-timer Heidi Ferrer) is limp and witless, and faintly offensive. A loser named Nate (Joel David Moore) has nursed a yen for a grade-school classmate named Cristabel (Hilton) for 20 years. Back in the day, all the little boys' interest in pretty Cristabel was deflected by her best friend, a snaggle-toothed, mole-flecked, snot-dripping horror named June (Christine Lakin). And when Nate tracks the grown-up Cristabel to Los Angeles, he discovers that not only is she hottier than ever, but that June — now losing her hair, on top of everything else — is still her gate-keeping best friend.

Apart from the fact that women who look like Paris Hilton do not have best friends who look like road-show Quasimodos (a truth regularly demonstrated by Hilton herself in her well-chronicled adventures with fellow celebutantes) and do not fall for gawky oddballs like Joel David Moore (an engaging comic actor who's marooned in this mirthless flick), there's something unsavory about turning a character afflicted with disfiguring medical problems into the butt of numbskull ugly-girl jokes. Offputting on another level is the notion that the hideous June could attract the amorous attention of a godlike stud (Johann Urb), and then, of course, be transformed by him and his money into a hottie herself. No amount of modernist irony can revivify this ancient plot contrivance.

A little funny might have helped. But while it's filled with listless gab and meandering sequences, "The Hottie and the Nottie" is almost entirely laugh-free. Watching it is like watching a wall. The picture runs about 90 minutes, and could easily lose 20. Make that 30. It'd still be 60 minutes too long, though.

Check out everything we've got on "The Hottie and the Nottie."

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