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Published: Friday, 12/13/2002

The Hot Chick: The laughs wear thin in one-joke comedy

BY CHRISTOPHER BORRELLI
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Judging by all reports, assumptions, and howls of protest from the hounds of conventional wisdom, the following is the appropriate, age-old method for handling a movie as pathetic and brainless as The Hot Chick: Raise one's nose to the wind, “tsk tsk” a little, spin on your heels, ignore said film, rent something upstanding, meaningful, and tedious, vow not to return to the multiplex until Hollywood gets its act together, and finally, fall asleep groaning epitaphs about the erosion of western civilization.

Is this you? If so, you will undoubtedly enjoy not seeing, and yet really, really hating, this latest junk comedy. Some highlights: In one scene, a middle-aged father exposes himself to his Mexican gardener. Earlier, a man gulps nacho cheese directly out of a convenience store machine. Much of the plot involves an ugly balding man in hot pants and a tube top acting like he just stepped off the MTV TRL shriek-and-swoon bus.

In one protracted scene, this man bangs his head more times than the skier in that infamous opening from ABC's Wide World of Sports. Shocked that this - as you've said many times before -“is what passes for funny nowadays”? Good.

Let's move on. On the other side of the fence is an audience you should meet. It is made up of your neighbors, your best friends, and poor souls who want something pathetic and brainless on occasion. Count myself among them. We have been known to cheerfully line up for movies in which people bang their heads repeatedly. Rob Schneider stars in this one, and you will not be surprised to learn he bangs his head the most. I lost count at 23. And yet the audience that eats up the average Rob Schneider movie is a jaded lot, for woeful is many the moviegoer whose Friday night is dashed on those pointy rocks of celluloid bearing the vestiges of former Saturday Night Live cast members.

That said, in the interest of bringing these two warring audiences together, nations split by generations, an appreciation for The Andy Griffith Show, and the ready availability of bling-bling, I would like to report without a degree of uncertainty that, ahem, it's official: Rob Schneider is the second coming of Don Knotts.

While this is not a good thing, it is some sad, sorry common ground. Let us unite. My one concern is that Schneider hasn't dug into the Knotts oeuvre further than The Incredible Mr. Limpet, that 1964 magnum opus about a schlub who dreams of being a fish. In his first roles as a leading idiot, Schneider played Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo (self-explanatory) and The Animal (part doofus, part zoological experiment); in The Hot Chick, he plays a lowlife who swaps bodies with a snooty cheerleader, a.k.a. the hot chick.

Keep up, people. Jessica (Rachel McAdams) is a cruel teenager who shoplifts a pair of cursed earrings and then has a run-in with a punk named Clive (Schneider), who steals one of the earrings. The next morning Jessica wakes up in her home, only she's in Clive's body; and vice versa. People don't believe this dirt ball is Jessica. Hilarity ensues, or at least it did among the four people who seemed to do all the laughing at my screening. They liked the film's single joke, and it is this: Rob Schneider acting like a teenage girl. He is a pug of a man who mugs. A lot. You see: Hairy and scrawny, with a high hairline and a face for radio, he looks nothing like a teenage girl.

All you can really ask from a movie like The Hot Chick is some genuine belly laughs, and at times it does achieve a certain inspired lameness, an amiable Mad magazine vulgarity. But Schneider's impression of a girl (I suppose this is somewhat intentional) is a notch below the average schoolyard repertoire, and once we've seen it, the rest is just a dull recycling of the usual teen movie moments.

Think of a discount satire of Bring It On: Schneider tries on different hairdos, cheerleads, goes to the prom, etc.

The film operates on the antiquated sensibility of a 1950s sitcom or a very sheltered 10-year-old boy: all men are jocks, all women act girly. There's a scene where a black teenager kisses a fat girl and my audience, at least, loudly groaned.

Sure, everything here is broad and silly, but why then toss in a last-minute subplot about the need to accept people, no matter who they are? Why do comedies this purposely goofy always turn cheesy and preachy in the last 20 minutes? Does anyone actually cherish the life lessons to be culled from a Rob Schneider comedy?

Personally, I like my slapstick dumb and honest, and the next time one decides to teach us about tolerance, it might want to consider extending that idea to dim-wattage SNL stars still trying to break into movies.



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