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Thursday, Sept. 4, 2008 01:59 pm

House Bunny shines during holiday weekend

House Bunny Running time 1:38 Rated PG-13 ShowPlace West ShowPlace East

W.C. Fields once offered up a piece of sage showbiz advice for those worried about having a scene stolen from them. He warned never to act with dogs or children. Were he alive today, he might add Anna Faris to that list. The young actress oozes charm in the right role and when she's on, you can't take your eyes off her. Such is the case in The House Bunny, a Legally Blonde retread whose fish out of water is Shelley Darlingson, a Playboy bunny who's thrown out of Hef's mansion on her 27th birthday for being too old. Desolate and with nowhere to go, this ditzy waif ends up on the doorstep of Zeta Alpha Zeta, a sorority made up of campus misfits who are about to lose their charter due to lack of membership. Desperate, the girl's leader Natalie (Emma Stone) allows Shelley to be their housemother, and before you know it, bikini car washes are held to raise cash for charity and sexy calendars are sold featuring the sorority members, once the expected makeovers occur.

There's not an original idea in the film's by-the-numbers screenplay, but the enthusiasm of the cast and Faris' charm are more than enough to make you overlook these faults. More than likely, feminists in the audience will object to Shelley's strategy of having her new charges find their inner bimbo (one of her tips is to "skimplify" when dressing) and that her late-movie conversion, in which she espouses the virtue of being yourself, is nothing but lip service. Whatever, this is lightweight fare and its audience knows a good date movie when it sees one.

College Running time 1:34 Rated R ShowPlace West

A different sort of experience in higher learning is on display in College (1 1/2 stars), a dismal, crude comedy that follows the misadventures of three high school seniors who head to a local university to determine whether they should attend there in the fall. Their weekend is filled with hazing of the worst sort by a group of sadistic upperclassmen, including taking body shots off the hairiest human being alive, being thrown into a swine stampede, and having their car stripped. You know, good old-fashioned fun.

There's a sadistic streak that runs through the film that makes the humor more disturbing than funny. We wind up laughing at the movie's three misfits rather than sympathizing with them, making this misguided comedy one
to skip.

Death Race Running time 1:29 Rated R ShowPlace West ShowPlace East

The sadism on display in Death Race (2 1/2 stars) is of a different sort, as it's laced with sharp social satire. The title contest is a ratings blockbuster in the near future as Terminal Island, a floating prison, serves host to a high-octane auto race where death among its participants is not only commonplace but encouraged. Jason Statham stars as Jensen Ames, a former race car driver who's framed for his wife's murder and sent to the island where Warden Hennessey (Joan Allen) blackmails him into racing. With his freedom and his daughter's fate on the line, Ames gets behind the wheel and shows no mercy as he mows down one opponent after another.

Though the film's satirical bent is obvious (that reality television is headed to a grisly end!), the film has other positive qualities. The production design is appropriately gritty and the movie's dingy, tattered look perfectly underscores its violent aesthetic. However, director Paul W.S. Anderson proves to be his own worst enemy as he shows no restraint where moving the camera and editing the film are concerned. The result is a bit of a jumble as the audience ends up straining to piece together the fractured action on display. Race ends up being a film I wish I had seen more of.

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