Dir: Tom Putnam. US. 2008. 98 mins.
A crude twist on the old maxim about inner beauty trumping outward appearance, The Hottie And The Nottie sluggishly tries to copy the Farrelly brothers' winning mixture of sweetness and occasionally revolting humour, but the results couldn't be more unsightly. Socialite and tabloid curiosity Paris Hilton may be Hottie's main draw, but it's doubtful that even her celebrity will do much to raise the prospects of this negligible, aggressively moronic romantic comedy.

opens in the US today in a limited release of approximately 100 screens, hoping to capitalize on Americans' love-hate relationship with the notoriously self-promoting heiress Paris Hilton, who has turned her tabloid fame into a lucrative (but undistinguished) career as a model, reality-television star, and pop singer. Though the film's advertising features her prominently, she is in fact a supporting character: the object of desire for the story's slacker-ish hero. Nonetheless, Hottie represents her most high-profile film role after playing disposable bit parts in movies such as House Of Wax.

With a no-name cast surrounding her - and faced with direct romantic-comedy competition from the star-laden Fool's Gold (not to mention Definitely, Maybe, which will open the following weekend) - expect Hottie to be lost in the shuffle, mostly driven by confirmed Hilton haters seeking a campy-bad experience. International prospects look equally gruesome, as do ancillaries.

Directionless twentysomething Nate (Joel David Moore) decides to move back to his Los Angeles home to court Cristabel (Hilton), the beautiful girl he's loved since they were in grade school together. Upon his return, he discovers that although she's still gorgeous and sweet, she won't date a guy unless he's equally nice to June (Christine Lakin), Cristabel's disgustingly unattractive best friend. In order to land Cristabel, Nate must find a boyfriend for June, a seemingly impossible task for such a frightful gargoyle.

Directed without enthusiasm by newcomer Tom Putnam, The Hottie And The Nottie is witless as a comedy and borderline offensive as a paean to looking beyond physical beauty to a person's core attributes. The story, from television writer Heidi Ferrer, is a trite variation on the familiar tale of a guy who learns that attractiveness isn't everything in a mate. But by injecting gross-out gags and questionable character motivations into the mix, Hottie quickly grows shrill, so lethargic in its execution that its ineptness never even rises to the level of a guilty pleasure.

Hottie sets up an implausible scenario where a beautiful young woman inexplicitly has a best gal pal who is unspeakably ugly. Whereas works like Mask and The Man Without A Face depicted deformed characters in a realistic way, June's disgustingness is overemphasized cruelly with a fright wig and bad makeup. Put plainly, the world may be filled with marginally attractive people, but no one is as hideous as Jane. Moreover, the personalities of the two women are so different that it never seems credible that they're best friends.

Though Hottie is meant to be an outrageous comedy full of over-the-top bits, this setup doesn't even seem within the realm of believable human behaviour. (As if trying to cover up this problem, the script has Nate's buddy say that it's a well-known phenomenon that hot women always have an ugly best friend, which will come as a shock to anyone who has ever visited a bar or any other place of social interaction.)

Compounding the stupidity, the film resorts to one of the oldest romantic-comedy staples: the unattractive girl who is actually quite gorgeous once she gets a makeover. Nate manages to find a handsome dentist (Johann Urb) who woos June and fixes her gruesome teeth. Soon enough, June turns out to be a fox who, conveniently, starts demonstrating an appealing personality now that she's also outwardly lovely. The movie means to put Nate in the difficult position of deciding between the seemingly perfect Cristabel and the transformed ugly duckling June, but in truth Nate's interest in June only blossoms once her looks improve.

All too predictably, Hottie's humour is a nightmare gallery of graceless slapstick, repulsive body-image jokes, and an unhealthy stream of gags involving flatulence. If that wasn't enough, a sexist double standard permeates the film: June's unattractiveness is a constant source of repulsion for Nate and his dumpy buddy Arno (The Greg Wilson, obnoxious), but the film never turns the joke around on these two guys, mocking their mediocre looks and unenlightened attitudes. Where the Farrelly brothers push the envelope of good taste while being fair to all their characters, Hottie is a mean-spirited comedy parading its beauty-is-skin-deep moral as some sort of guard against how contemptuous it is of any woman who isn't a total babe.

To be fair, Hilton's performance actually reveals more warmth than her usual ice-queen demeanour would suggest. Her Cristabel radiates a certain amount of all-American-girl sweetness, but soon it becomes clear that Hilton isn't playing a character as much as she is embodying a male fantasy of the perfect woman, albeit without the humanity that Cameron Diaz brought to a similar role in the far superior There's Something About Mary. Joel David Moore flounders as the weasel-like Nate, although he does have some touching moments with Christine Lakin's June once she pretties herself up.

In fact, Lakin has such a beguiling effervescence once she's free of the makeup that it seems even more of a missed opportunity how much Hottie insists on treating her like a pariah in the film's first half. One can only assume she'll soon be landing much better roles and will be able to put all this ugly business behind her.

Production companies
Purple Pictures (US)
Adrenalina Films
Nevinny-Ramer Productions

Domestic distribution
Regent Releasing

Executive producers
Paris Hilton
Hans G. Syz

Victoria Nevinny
Neal Ramer
Myles Nestel
Hadeel Reda

Grace M. Lee
Josh Lekach
Roger Crotti

Heidi Ferrer

Director of photography
Alex Vendler

Production designer
John Larena

Jeff Malmberg
James Miley

David E. Russo

Main cast
Paris Hilton
Joel David Moore
Christine Lakin
Johann Urb
The Greg Wilson
Adam Kulbersh