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'Sweet Home Alabama'

'Sweet Home Alabama' doesn't live up to its title

Friday, September 27, 2002

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Film Critic

"Sweet Home Alabama" -- the new film -- is a romantic comedy.

"Sweet Home Alabama" -- the old song -- was a redneck response to Neil Young's powerful protest ballads "Alabama" and "Southern Man."

'Sweet Home Alabama'

RATING: PG-13 for mild profanity and sexual references.

STARRING: Reese Witherspoon, Josh Lucas, Candice Bergen.

DIRECTOR: Andy Tennant.

WEB SITE: www.sweet


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Otherwise, there is no connection between (and certainly no reconciling) the former and the latter. So why do I bother to mention it? I don't know. Pedantic habit. It's the title of the damn movie. Never mind.

Reese Witherspoon plays Melanie -- New York's hottest fashion designer, engaged to New York's hottest bachelor (Patrick Dempsey), the son of Mayor Candice Bergen. But Melanie's Manhattan closet contains the Southern skeleton of Jake (Josh Lucas), whom she married in high school but who refuses to divorce her. No choice now but to return to sweet home Alabama and make him do so.

Home is Pigeon's Creek, where Jake is still playing pool in a bar that admonishes its patrons, "No dancing on tables with spurs" -- and where her idiotic father (Fred Ward) is still re-enacting Confederate battles against the Union. And those aren't the least charming of the town's uncharming qualities.

Young director Andy Tennant, who did a good job with "Anna and the King" three years ago, is lamer than Chester this time around. There are precious few yuks on the laugh meter -- three or four at most. There is no particular sense or credibility to the plot. A tear or two is squeezed from us through the title song, but without the slightest relevance to Ronnie Van Zant's lyrics. (In any case, it was Neil Young -- not the ill-fated Lynyrd Skynyrd -- who was right.) We don't even get any good sex scenes.

What we do get, however, is terrific Candice Bergen and -- best of all -- Mary Kay Place, in the role of Melanie's mother. If you are not instantly familiar with that fabulous actress' name, let me refresh your memory by mentioning her immortal role on the late great "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" TV pseudo-soap of the '70s. It was there, as the born-again country western singer Loretta, that she uttered the greatest of all prayers: "Lord, please bless our family, and please renew our Valium prescription -- and please, Lord, make it the 10's instead of the 5's."

I saw this film in the company of three gorgeous women, whose unanimous verdict was, "See it for that hot guy!" -- meaning Josh Lucas ("A Beautiful Mind," "American Psycho"). You may take their word for it.

Reese ("Legally Blonde") Witherspoon? You may take or leave my word for her: Tepid. At best.

Barry Paris can be reached at 412-263-3859.

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