Set in the fictional hamlet of Mount Rose, Minn., where the all-purpose rejoinder to any question is "You betcha," Drop Dead Gorgeous follows a documentary crew running the spandex gauntlet of a local pageant.
While interviewing the contestants, the crew does not fail to note this potential conflict of interest: The driving force behind the Mount Rose pageant is the driven Gladys Leeman (Kirstie Alley), a former winner and the mother of one of the contestants, Becky (Denise Richards).
Now sultry but talentless Becky is accustomed to all the things her money (and hitmen) can buy, whether it's the presidency of the Lutheran Girls Rifle Club or the pageant crown. Her chief contender, the genuinely talented Amber Atkins (Kirsten Dunst), is a perky blonde who works hard for her goals.
Where Becky lives in a brick mansion, Amber and her beer-swilling mom (Ellen Barkin) are self-described trailer trash. In one of the film's few good lines, Amber explains why she'd compete in a pageant: "Guys get out of Mount Rose all the time for hockey scholarships - and prison. The pageant's kinda my only chance."
The film imagines itself as edgy and extreme, but its infrequent humor comes from its metacriticism of a documentary film crew too pure to interfere when a camera subject gets stuck in a car but impure enough to salivate over young lovelies.
It's hard to say whether this is a function of Lona Williams' occasionally droll script or of Michael Patrick Jann's always dull direction, but the film unfunnily trades in stereotypes and broadcasts them in quadraphonic. People with money are corrupt, people without are saintly, and everyone else is extraneous.
Alley's character is the hypocrite, the religious and patriotic apple-pie mom who would break all the commandments, burn the flag, and poison the well if it helped her daughter get ahead. Richards is the spoiled rhymes-with-rich who has no respect for those who work. As if these cliches were not enough, there is also a dirty-old-man figure and a mentally disabled man, repeatedly referred to as "the retard," who can't ogle these girls enough. The filmmakers are no better than the leering men they make fun of.
While Dunst has a nice deadpan humor as the trailer-park overachiever, it's hard to laugh at a movie that hammers its jokes as hard as this one.
DROP DEAD GORGEOUS * 1/2 Produced by Gavin Polone and Judy Hofflund, directed by Michael Patrick Jann, written by Lona Williams, photography by Michael Spiller, music by Mark Mothersbaugh, distributed by New Line Cinema
Running time: 1 hour, 38 mins.
Amber Atkins..........Kirsten Dunst
Annette Atkins........Ellen Barkin
Becky Leeman..........Denise Richards
Gladys Leeman.........Kirstie Alley
Parent's guide: PG-13 (sexual candor, violence, profanity)
Showing at: area theaters