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What's On: Sweet 'n' sour; Johnson's choice.

THE success of Sweet Home Alabama took Hollywood by surprise. In its opening weekend in the States it took $35m at the box office, elevating the film's star Reese Witherspoon into that exclusive club of an actress who can open a film.

Witherspoon's previous foray into the romantic comedy genre Legally Blonde was also a surprise hit, but there the comparisons between Legally Blonde and Sweet Home Alabama end.

Legally Blonde was a funny movie which took great delight in playing with dumb blonde Beverly Hills fashion bimbo stereotype.

In Sweet Home Alabama Witherspoon plays Melanie Carmichael, a Southern gal on the verge of hitting the big time in New York as the hot new fashion designer. Her boyfriend Andrew (Patrick Dempsey) is the suave son of the Big Apple's mayor and one of America's most eligible bachelors.

Her perfect, hard-worked for world is turned upside down when Andrew proposes - because Mel has a past...and a husband.

Back in her previous existence south of the Mason-Dixon line, young Mel got into the back of good old boy Jake Perry's truck (Josh Lucas) and got herself a no-good layabout of a husband.

With the urgent need to tie up some loose ends Melanie heads home to Alabama to finalise her D.I.V.O.R.C.E. But that's when her plans start going awry. Jake is in no mood to sign the divorce papers because, god darnit, he still loves her. To make things worse, being married isn't the only lie that Melanie has spun. She isn't a Carmichael - the local land-owning important family - but a Smooter, a family from across the red neck side of the tracks.

While the storyline is hardly original the main problem with Sweet Home Alabama is that director Andy Tennant doesn't take it anywhere or say anything, turning out a confusing directionless mess with only the occasional laugh against the backdrop of a gay-loving blacks-friendly modernday South. The same South that only last week tried to argue in court that a burning cross is in fact a symbol of free expression.

OK, this is light-hearted romantic comedy and not a political film, but it's the romantic comedy element that really lets down Sweet Home Alabama with the schmaltz laid on thicker than maple syrup on blueberry pancakes. Sweet Home Alabama hit a nerve with the post 9/11 American public, while in the UK it will be labelled a chick flick, but Sweet Home Alabama will probably be a little too sweet in the tooth for most British film goers. Best wait for Legally Blonde II.
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Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:1U6AL
Date:Dec 21, 2002
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Next Article:What's On: Reese-ons to be cheerful - Questions and answers with Reese Witherspoon.

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