Dir: Robert Luketic. US. 2001. 97 mins.

Slick, sexy andwinsome, Legally Blonde isa lot of fun and a rare sight this summer: A feel-good movie that's notentirely frivolous. A logical follow-up to Election, in which Reese Witherspoon played an obnoxiouslyambitious high-schooler, the new comedy casts her as a ditzy but smart LAblonde, who goes to Harvard Law School to regain her snobbish boyfriend, and inthe process regains a new identity and social consciousness. Walking a fineline between a message movie a la Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, a light feminist comedy in the vein of PrivateBenjamin and the high camp ofFrank Tashlin's pictures, Legally Blonde announces the splashy feature debut of the youngAussie director Robert Luketic, who fulfills the promise he had shown in hisimpressive short, Titsiana Booberini. Desperate to have a commercial success in a rather lacklustreyear, MGM looks to finally have a box-office hit on its hands with a picturethat, despite predictability and occasional sentimentality, is extremelyenjoyable.

Exactly two decades ago,Goldie Hawn gave one of her most endearing performances in Howard Zieff's PrivateBenjamin, in which she played adizzy Jewish princess who, after her hubby dies in their wedding night (on thebathroom floor during sex), volunteers for military service, which turns herinto a smarter, more mature woman, following years of acting as a spoiled bratand wasting her native intelligence. Similarly, Elle Woods (Witherspoon) beginsas a super-popular honor student, who's the president of her sorority, arunner-up for Miss Hawaiian Tropic, and Miss June on the CULA campus calendar.Naturally blonde (an important distinction in this picture, which ispreoccupied with the different meanings and shades of blonde), and flauntingpink as a signature colour, Elle is not dumb or clueless, just a girl who'snever realized her true worth. Indeed, conditioned to define herselfvis-à-vis men, Elle is anxious for her plum boyfriend, Warner (Davis),to pop the question and place the rock (a six-carat Harry Winston) on herfreshly manicured finger.

Attentive and submissiveover dinner at his favourite chic restaurant, Elle is shocked when Warner dumpsher, claiming she's "too blonde," "not serious enough" foran ambitious man with a future political career. Devastated, but not utterlycrushed, she decides to prove she can be the woman he desires and applies tothe Ivy League school. For her admission, Elle submits a sexy video that leavesthe senior, all-male committee in a voyeuristic awe, to say the least.

The film's firstreel unfolds as a reworking of the fish-out-of-water comedy, with Elle's pinkoutfits, pink Prada bag, and tiny dog standing in sharp contrast to the moresevere, navy blue blazer look of the world's most famous law school. She'sfurther humiliated, when, upon arrival, Warner introduces her to his newgirlfriend, the rich, serious-minded, all-business brunette, Vivian Kensington(Blair). Reporting to her gossipy friends, Elle says about Vivian: "Shecould use some mascara and some serious highlights, but she's not completelyunfortunate-looking."

Resolving to succeed inthe typical manner of American heroes, Elle soon proves herself to be one ofthe brightest students, posing pragmatic questions about the legal system,challenging pompous students and the faculty. When prestigious professorCallahan (Garber) picks four students for the coveted intern spots at his firm,Elle is shockingly one of them. Gradually, Elle wins the respect of her peers,teachers, and friends.

Screenwriters Lutz andSmith introduce two subplots that enrich the predictable main line. When down,Elle frequents a beauty parlor, where she befriends and bonds with Paulette(Coolidge), an older, maladroit manicurist, who needs to be more assertive withmen. Always providing a sympathetic ear, Paulette sees Elle as "amodern-day Shane who comes into town and changes everyone's life in unexpectedways."

There's also welcomediversity in the secondary characters: colourful sorority girlfriends, afrothing-at-the-mouth feminist classmate named Enid (Lynn), who claims:"The English language is all about subliminal domination. Take the wordsemester -- it's a perfect example of this school's discriminatory preferenceof semen to ovaries."

The last segments,however, turn into a fairy tale court drama, in which Elle assists the defensein a sensational murder trial involving a famed California fitness guru, BrookeTaylor (Larter), accused of killing her rich husband. Soon Elle ends up defendingthe client herself in what becomes the ultimate exhibition of Girl Power, withall of her former groupies in attendance. A side benefit here is the surprisingturn by the still-beautiful Raquel Welch, as the billionaire's first wife.

Not neglecting theromantic interest, the movie has Elle shyly courted by Emmett (Wilson), whoseems to be the only decent male in the entire school. A foil to Warner'stentative snobbery, and a contrast to professor Callahan, who later revealssleazy, self-serving intentions in hiring Elle, Emmett is the first Harvardlegal eagle to give Elle the benefit of the doubt.

Throughout, thegood-natured comedy is peppered with satirical humor, punchy one-liners, andclever digs at blondes (and brunettes), dirty-minded professors, bombasticallypretentious men. Farcically debunking just about any label and stereotype,including "the dumb blonde," Legally Blonde effectively propagates the familiar, all-Americanmessages of determination to succeed against all odds, and never judge peopleby their physical appearance.

The director Luketicseems to be inspired by the sensibility of the late Frank Tashlin, who applieda comic strip vision to his comedies with Jerry Lewis and risque rompswith Jayne Mansfield (The Girl Can't Help It, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter), which not only displayed the actress's ampleloveliness but also an inventively exaggerated, sometimes vulgar, tone andlook, with pink and purple as dominant colors. Yet, unlike Tashlin's, Luketic'swork is camp but not cartoonish. In his highly accomplished feature debut(which doesn't feel like a first effort), he shows discretionary taste andbrisk pacing in modulating his farcical comedy.

MGM has been engaged allsummer in an aggressive ad campaign (perfumed pin