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Originally published Friday, June 17, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Movie review

Patchwork plot strands a cast in search of a movie

Watching the cast of "The Perfect Man" is like settling down to one of those reality shows that puts celebrities who don't quite know what...

Special to The Seattle Times

Watching the cast of "The Perfect Man" is like settling down to one of those reality shows that puts celebrities who don't quite know what to do with each other in the same room. Hilary Duff, tween queen and pop star, sticks to her comfort zone; Chris Noth ("Sex and the City") makes a less-than-Big impression; and Heather Locklear reminds us of all the fun we used to have watching "T.J. Hooker" and "Melrose Place" — without having any now.

As individuals, these actors have appeal. Here, in a plot that feels cobbled together by committee, they try to go about their business while the predictable merges with the superficial.

Holly Hamilton (Duff) is a teen whose mom, Jean (Locklear), packs up and moves as soon as her relationships fizzle. Jean's desperate-housewife mentality ("I don't want to end up alone") takes them to Brooklyn, where she bakes cakes and Holly and her little sister, Zoe, assume they won't stay long enough for boyfriends or spelling bees.

Upon conveniently meeting Amy (winningly played by TV's "American Dreams" star Vanessa Lengies) on the first day of school, Holly meets Amy's dashing uncle Ben (Noth), a restaurateur who dispenses free ice cream as well as advice for the lovelorn. Ben's romantic aphorisms soon provide Holly with enough material to fabricate the perfect man for her mom, and what begins with an anonymous note ends up in a flurry of e-mails and instant-messages between mother and daughter ("Ben").

Movie review 2 stars

Showtimes and trailer

"The Perfect Man," with Hilary Duff, Heather Locklear, Chris Noth, Mike O'Malley. Directed by Mark Rosman, from a screenplay by Gina Wendkos, based on a story by Michael McQuown, Heather Robinson and Katherine Torpey. 100 minutes. Rated PG for some mildly suggestive content. Several theaters.

Duff and Locklear never really connect onscreen, which makes Holly's plan seem more cruel and creepy than loving. Despite her relationship history, Jean buys every last word. Locklear, who isn't allowed to use the comic chops she employed so well in "Melrose" or "Spin City," is unable to convey that she's been through the emotional wringer. (Her smooth, smooth forehead is but part of the problem.)

Noth plays a lesser version of Mr. Big with panache, but it's Mike O'Malley (TV's "Yes, Dear") who single-handedly earns this movie its second star. As Lenny "the bread guy," Jean's bakery co-worker, he woos Jean with tickets to a Styx tribute band, only to pick her up in a car-alarm-inducing Trans-Am. Later spurned and heartbroken, he shows up, "Say Anything"-style, holding a boom box aloft, blasting Styx for the whole 'hood to hear.

While "The Perfect Man" could have been a palatable romantic comedy, it's not quite "The Parent Trap." Duff, who enjoys top billing, has unfortunately set herself up for comparisons with Lindsay Lohan, whose "Parent Trap" remake and "Mean Girls" star turn (where Lohan plays a newbie at an urban high school) are much better movies. Duff, while a sparkly screen presence, needs to break out of her saccharine rut and head for an indie script.

Emily Russin:

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