Humor's mean in `Drop Dead'

July 23, 1999|By Ann Hornaday | Ann Hornaday,SUN FILM CRITIC

"Fargo" did Minnesota better than "Drop Dead Gorgeous" does.

The HBO movie "The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom" did Mom Wars better. "Pink Flamingos" did trailer parks better.

"Waiting for Guffman" did small towns with more wit.

"Election" satirized high school competition with more intelligence.

And Michael Ritchie sent up the world of beauty pageants with more hilarity in 1975 with "Smile."

So what does "Drop Dead Gorgeous," Michael Patrick Jann's comedy about two Minnesota mothers warring over a small-town high school beauty pageant, bring to the table?

Not much, unless your idea of entertainment runs to making fun of working-class people, retarded people, gay people (or at least their relatives) and other supposedly easy targets.

Tired, mean and calculatingly cynical, "Drop Dead Gorgeous" is a textbook case of Hollywood taking what was once the province of independents -- in this case, the mock-documentary -- and perverting it beyond recognition into a nasty and uninspired re-tread.

In the worse casting crime of the summer, Kirstie Alley plays Gladys Leeman, a former beauty queen from Mount Rose, Minn., who is determined that her daughter Becky (Denise Richards) will win this year's pageant. The only thing standing in her way is Amber Atkins (Kirsten Dunst), a smart, beautiful girl whose mother Annette (Ellen Barkin) drinks beer and smokes Luckys in their mobile home.

Obviously, the filmmakers responsible for "Drop Dead Gorgeous" watched movies like "Fargo," "Waiting for Guffman" and "There's Something About Mary" -- which also featured a retarded character -- without gleaning a clue to what made those films so successful.

The best satirists know that ultimately the joke shouldn't be on the subjects but on filmgoers, whose own pieties and hypocrisies are skewered.

Lacking this insight as well as a discernible soul, "Drop Dead Gorgeous" leaves a bad taste in the mouth and a mean streak on the screen.

`Drop Dead Gorgeous'

Starring Kirstie Alley, Ellen Barkin, Kirsten Dunst, Denise Richards

Directed by Michael Patrick Jann

Released by New Line Cinema

Rated PG-13 (irreverent and crude humor, sex-related material and language)

Running time: 97 minutes

Sun Score: *

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