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Hairstylists Try to Primp a Little Life Into 'Blow Dry'


"The Full Monty," with its blue-collar male strippers, is a hard act for its writer Simon Beaufoy to follow, as "Blow Dry" proves.

"Blow Dry" has the usual sterling British cast, with Americans Josh Hartnett and Rachael Leigh Cook fitting right in, and a picturesque Yorkshire town as its setting. But it doesn't really kick in until the halfway point, nor does it get much help from director Paddy Breathnach, unable to generate much energy. Despite its dollops of good-natured humor and sentiment, "Blow Dry" is likely to play better on the tube as a likable-enough diversion.

Natasha Richardson's Shelly and Rachel Griffiths' Sandra have been partners in a beauty salon and in their private lives for 10 years. During that time, Shelly's ex-husband Phil (Alan Rickman), who runs a barbershop with his son Brian (Hartnett), has remained bitterly estranged from Shelly and Sandra. Once, Shelly and Phil were a prizewinning hairstylist team until Sandra became their model, and the two women unexpectedly fell in love.

Just as Shelly has learned she has terminal cancer, the town's mayor (Warren Clarke) has expressed hope that she and Phil might strike a truce so that their city could be represented when it hosts the upcoming British Hairdressers' Federation annual competition. Since Shelly wants to make peace with her ex and become closer to Brian before she dies, she sees the competition as a way of bringing everyone together. Phil is not exactly open to the proposal, and when fate and human nature interact in a way that persuades him to agree, he assumes all that Shelly is concerned with is winning.

Phil's need to accept and understand Shelly is a serious and thorny issue, and it takes a very long time for the playing out of this drama to mesh effectively with the inevitably campy shenanigans of the hairdressing competition. And even when it does, you still wish that Beaufoy had come up with something less drastic than a fatal disease to drive the plot.

Despite an aura of contrivance that never quite fades, the ensemble cast by and large excels, despite the poor direction. Richardson and Rickman bring considerable dimension to their dilemma. Bill Nighy steals the show as a conniving rival of Shelly and Phil in the old days who is less than thrilled with the possibility that they may reunite. Cook, as Nighy's American daughter, and Hartnett supply the youthful love interest. Clarke's mayor reveals his secret Elvis-impersonator yearnings in a nifty turn behind the end credits.

* MPAA rating: R, for some language and brief nudity. Times guidelines: acceptable for mature older children.

'Blow Dry'

Alan Rickman: Phil

Natasha Richardson: Shelly

Rachel Griffiths: Sandra

Rachael Leigh Cook: Christina

Josh Hartnett: Brian[

A Miramax Films and Intermedia Films presentation of a Miracle Enterprises/West Eleven production in association with IMF Productions. Director Paddy Breathnach. Producers Ruth Jackson, William Horberg, David Rubin. Executive producers Sydney Pollack, Meryl Poster, Julie Goldstein. Based on the screenplay "Never Better" by Simon Beaufoy. Cinematographer Cian De Buitlear. Editor Tony Lawson. Music Patrick Doyle. Costumes Rosie Hackett. Production designer Sophie Becher. Art director Sarah Hauldren. Set decorator Niamh Coulter.. Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes.

At selected theaters.

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