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Television Review

A Few Blemishes in This Beauty Battle

As a larger-than-life, fictionalized tale of Mary Kay Ash's effort to fend off a home-sales rival, 'Hell on Heels' runs out of steam.

October 05, 2002|DARYL H. MILLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

From the snowy wigs that crown her head to the cosmetics empire she runs, the Mary Kay Ash depicted in CBS' Sunday-night movie is a woman who thinks big.

Even her dreams are oversized, as suggested by a black-and-white opening sequence in which she stars in her own "Citizen Kane," enigmatically whispering, "Rosebud." (This time, it's a shade of lipstick.)

No hagiographic biography here. Right away, "Hell on Heels: The Battle of Mary Kay" (at 9 p.m.) announces that it, too, is going to be larger than life.

In the title role, Shirley MacLaine sets just the right pitch, moving with regal grace and behaving like a queen, yet keeping her emotions grounded in truth. Her performing partners--Parker Posey as a rival who seems to be stealing all of Mary Kay's best ideas, and Shannen Doherty as a zealous Mary Kay convert--get to go further over the top. Indeed, it's difficult to imagine how the crew suppressed its laughter during the filming of some of these scenes.

So if the movie seems to lose momentum before it's quite over, it's not the actresses' fault.

Written by Patricia Resnick and directed by Ed Gernon, the movie presents a fictionalized version of events in the 1990s (Mary Kay died in November 2001 at age 83), as the rival BeautiControl company makes a run for her home-sales territory.

At a gathering of her sales associates, Mary Kay arrives on stage in a Cinderella carriage and imparts aphorisms to the cheering crowd. Across the street, the executives of BeautiControl ponder how to keep their company afloat. The arrival of perfectly put-together executive wife Jinger Heath (Posey) gives them an idea: Present her as a younger, hipper Mary Kay, to inspire their own sales force.

A beauty battle brews as Jinger and her husband (Barry Flatman) move into Mary Kay's Dallas neighborhood, horn in on her charities and make an extravagant gift to her beloved church. Outside the church, the theme from "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" whispers in the wind as Mary Kay and Jinger narrow their eyes challengingly at each other.

Meanwhile, the sales forces are causing their own mayhem as a grocery store encounter between Doherty's Lexy and a BeautiControl rival devolves into a food fight.

The fun keeps building, like air being forced into an overfilled balloon. But instead of exploding magnificently, the movie just deflates.

The Mary Kay faithful may feel this movie takes her too lightly. But one thing comes across quite clearly: She became a model of elegance and success, and she created an environment in which her home-sales agents could do the same.

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