It's a 91-minute plastic surgery commercial

Special to The Times

It's not like Paris Hilton to rise above her material, but "The Hottie and the Nottie" sinks so low that all she has to do is stand upright. Cast (it must be said, against type) as chaste, self-effacing beauty Cristabel Abbott, Hilton convincingly breaks with her public persona, which is good news for her acting coach but not for the movie's prospects, since there is little evidence that Hilton's fans want to see her playing anything other than herself.

The nottie to Hilton's hottie is her lifelong best friend, June Phigg (Christine Lakin), a snarling deterrent to would-be suitors, or, as one puts it, the "hideous dragon" at the castle gates. With her cracked teeth, festering toenails and matted body hair, June is indeed a hideous creation, although not as stomach-turning as the movie that contains her. Director Tom Putnam and writer Heidi Ferrer have concocted a feminine monstrosity so inhuman she might be an evolutionary throwback.

Hottie's real knuckle-draggers, though, are the men whose jaws drop at the mere sight of Cristabel's spandex-clad frame. Nate Cooper (Joel David Moore) has been nursing a crush on her since the first grade. Twenty years later, without job, friends or a clue, he decides that tracking down his long-lost love is the answer to all his problems. Of course, one man's hopeless romantic is another woman's stalker, but a few restraining-order jokes handily put that to rest.

Deciding that the only way to loosen June's grip is to find her a man of her own, Nate tries to bribe, cajole and even hypnotize potential suitors, who inevitably run screaming at the sight of her. But with the help of a few spa treatments and a friendly dentist, June begins to transform herself, which is when "Hottie" goes from insufferable to downright intolerable. While it pays lip service to inner beauty, the movie winds up as a feature-length advertisement for cosmetic surgery. Sure, an ugly duckling can become a swan -- but it's gonna cost you.

Mercifully, Christine Lakin emerges from the muck unstained. But by the time she's peeled off her bald cap, she seems far too good for any of the drooling mouth-breathers around her. Beauty may be skin deep, but ugliness goes to the bone.

"The Hottie and the Nottie." MPAA rating: PG-13 for crude and sexual content. Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes. In general release.

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