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Film review: Beautician and the Beast, The

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Call it "The King and Oh-eye," or better still, "The King and Whine."

Sure, Timothy Dalton is no Yul Brynner, and Fran Drescher is no Deborah Kerr (boy, is she no Deborah Kerr!), but there's enough of a similarity between "The Beautician and the Beast" and the feature film version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical "The King and I" (or the dramatic, nonmusical version, "Anna and the King of Siam") to raise some eyebrows.

Wisely, this fluffy but at times funny romantic comedy (think featherweight) isn't really a straight remake of those classic movies, it's primarily a film vehicle for the ever obnoxious Drescher (from TV's "The Nanny").

And if the film had nothing more than Drescher and her nasal delivery, it probably would drift away on its slight premise. However, it benefits from a sweet nature and features an extremely charming turn from Dalton, who proves here that he may have a case against his swift dismissal as James Bond after only two films (including the disappointing "License to Kill").

Drescher, who also executive produced the film, stars as Joy Miller, a night-school teacher (in cosmetology, natch) who is frustrated at her inability to get into show business (as a makeup person, natch).

After she saves some animals from a burning classroom, Joy is hailed as a hero and her photo is splashed over the covers of New York's daily newspapers. That also brings her to the attention of Boris "The Beast" Pochenko (Dalton), the ruler of Slovetzia, a small eastern European country sandwiched between Yugoslavia and Hungary.

"The Beast" wants Miller, whom his assistant has mistaken for a real teacher, to tutor his children, who have been unhappy and uninspired since the death of their mother. And the ambitious beautician is curious to see this country, which is "like Paris - 50 years ago."

Though her "lessons" consist of tacky arts-and-crafts projects and screenings of "West Side Story" ("It's more accessible" than Shakespeare, she says), Joy actually succeeds in revitalizing the children, as well as Boris, whose inability to communicate with his progeny and his subjects has left him isolated.

Drescher brings her usual shtick to the film, but surprisingly, there's a decent chemistry with Dalton. That's not to say that her cackle isn't as aggravating as ever, and she's definitely no actress, but there are some funny moments when Dalton attempts to muzzle her nonstop wisecracks.

And speaking of Dalton, as mentioned before, he is wonderful in this comeback role. He manages to make his character, who begins as a stern, Stalinesque dictator, human with just a few well-chosen facial expressions and some subtle nuances in his delivery.

Director Ken Kwapis shows off a previously unseen, but very light touch, as well as an interesting visual style, which begins (curiously enough) with an amusing cartoon parody of "Sleeping Beauty" that spawns from the movie studio logo at the start. Better still, he doesn't even flirt with slapstick, which helped sink his previous efforts (especially "Dunston Checks In").

"The Beautician and the Beast" is rated PG for some mildly vulgar gags and a very brief shot of Dalton's naked backside.