'Legally Blonde' is a not-so-bright comedy

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Reese Witherspoon is just 25 years old, but she's been making a major impression on moviegoers for a full decade now. High points of her career include the offbeat "Pleasantville," where she played a time-traveling teen caught in the 1950s, and the excellent "Election," in which she gave an Oscar-worthy performance as an overachieving high-school student with a very nasty streak.

I looked forward to her latest opus, "Legally Blonde," because it sounded like a follow-up to "Election," the best summer comedy in recent memory.

Witherspoon plays the golden-haired heroine, Elle Woods, a graduating senior who's convinced that her boyfriend, Warner, will propose to her before heading off to law school in the fall.

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Warner does pop a question, but instead of the one she expected, it's more along the lines of, "Don't you think we should break up?"

What breaks is Elle's heart, and if she were as ditsy as her sorority sisters, she'd spend the foreseeable future moaning and moping. She's a fighter, though, and before long she's settled on a more constructive course of action: She'll scuttle her other plans, apply to Warner's law school, and continue their courtship on his own turf, whether he wants to or not.

One doesn't expect deep intelligence from a warm-weather Hollywood romance, but "Legally Blonde" has enough plot holes to drive Warner's snazzy sedan through. If Elle's so smart, why does she behave like a bubblehead? If she's a bubblehead, how can she ace the law boards on a moment's notice? Why would Harvard Law School want the likes of her and Warner in the first place?

To be fair, "Legally Blonde" answers some of these questions. For example, Elle supports her Harvard application with a video essay directed by someone named Coppola and featuring Elle in a bikini. We even see the admissions committee making its decision to accept her, and here the movie has a welcome hint of satire - suggesting that the Ivy League is run by male aristocrats who are surefire suckers for a beautiful babe.

Such biting moments are few, though. Most of "Legally Blonde" is mere sitcom-style farce, culminating in a music-and-dance number that's as awkward and embarrassing as any scene I've watched in months. Witherspoon fills the screen with bright-eyed bounce, but the picture has little else to recommend it. There oughta be a law!

Rated PG-13; contains sexual humor.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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