Review: 'The House Bunny'

Screwball comedy has a former Playboy bunny teaching dour intellectual sorority girls about makeup and men.

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    Anna Faris is shown in a scene from, "The House Bunny."
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The kind of comic actor that Anna Faris represents, and the kind of unabashedly screwball comedy that she embraces, is quite possibly rarer than a comet hitting Earth – or a good, solidly-made American movie comedy. "The House Bunny," in which Faris makes her latest, glorious appearance and owns the screen from start to finish, isn't one of those comedies, but because it has Faris, it can be delectable from time to time.

Faris exultantly plays Shelley, whose early years are told like a fairy tale storybook: Born an orphan, passed over by countless parents, finally blossoming into complete hotness to the point that she becomes a Playboy bunny. Life at Hugh Hefner's mansion is good, with a few jealous competitors trying to earn their own centerfold and able to sabotage the happily clueless Shelley so she's kicked out of manse and onto the street, living out of her dumpy car.

Like a Brothers Grimm character, she magically finds her way to a sorority home (near what appears to be the USC campus) full of dour intellects dressed in drab gray and who are beyond needing a makeover – they need a facial and bodily revolution. "Losers" all, the women of Zeta Alpha Zeta get just what they need from Shelley, who, in turn, gets help from the brainy Zetas when she falls for smart do-gooder (Colin Hanks).

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Far more than in their scripts for "Legally Blonde" and "10 Things That I Hate About You," screenwriters Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith reveal a precise ear for dialogue that turns words back on themselves, and especially the sort of talk that young women say to one another in private: In perfect Shelley-talk, she exclaims, "My heart is pounding like a nail!"

While the movie is often a mess, directed hacklike by Fred Wolf and boomeranging wildly between Shelley's fortunes and misfortunes, Faris proves emphatically that her near-solo performance as a hopeless pothead in "Smiley Face" was no fluke. For all her chops as a dramatic actor, she's our new Judy Holliday and Goldie Hawn, only even sharper. Grade: B- (Rated PG-13 for sex-related humor, partial nudity, and brief strong language.)

• The Monitor's regular film critic, Peter Rainer, is on vacation.

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