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Attempts at humor fall flat in 'Blow Dry'

BLOW DRY —** — Alan Rickman, Natasha Richardson, Josh Hartnett, Rachel Griffiths, Rachael Leigh Cook, Bill Nighy, Hugh Bonneville; R (profanity, nudity, vulgarity, brief violence); exclusively at the Tower Theater.

"Blow Dry" has its heart in the right place . . . but little else.

In fact, it's hard to see why actors and filmmakers this talented would have anything to do with something as slight and forgettable as this only sporadically entertaining comedy-drama — though the looks of embarrassment on their faces suggest that even they know it isn't exactly a career highlight. (Perhaps the most telling thing about the movie is that its screenwriter, Simon Beaufoy, of "The Full Monty" fame, is now trying to distance himself from the project — which explains the "adapted from the screenplay by" credit he receives here.)

What's so disappointing about "Blow Dry" is that the film misfires wildly with what, on the surface, seems like a sure-fire premise — parodying hairdressing competitions, in much the same way that the mockumentary "Best in Show" sent up dog contests.

Unfortunately, "Blow Dry" isn't even as funny as last year's little-seen and similarly spotty "The Big Tease," and the supposedly insightful humor here is about as sharp as a pair of safety scissors.

The story revolves around the dysfunctional Beckett family, Brits with a strong background in haircutting and styling. Patriarch Phil (Alan Rickman) was once a champion stylist, but has since retired to the small village of Keighley, where he and his son Brian (Josh Hartnett) work as barbers.

All Phil has left are bitter memories of his broken marriage to Shelley (Natasha Richardson) — who left him on the eve of a competition to be with her new lover — and his favorite styling model, Sandra (Rachel Griffiths).

The three haven't spoken in years, but that may change when Keighley hosts the British Hairstyling Championships. For Phil, it's a chance to get even with his main rival, Ray (Bill Nighy). But Shelley has another, deeper reason for wanting to enter — she's dying and wants to reunite her "family" on one last project.

Meanwhile, Brian is getting anxious for the contest and has recently reunited with his childhood sweetheart, Christina (Rachael Leigh Cook). The problem is, she happens to be Ray's daughter and figures prominently in his plan to fix the competition.

As you can probably tell, this isn't exactly the most unpredictable material (anyone who's paying attention will know where this is going after 10 minutes). But both the punchless direction (by Paddy Breathnach, who made a strong debut with 1997's "I Went Down") and the script's attempts at humor fall flat.

That leaves things up to the cast, and though Richardson, Rickman and Griffiths all try to breathe life into the film, it's crippled by Hartnett, who not only has his characteristically bad hairdo, but also an ever-shifting accent (from nothing whatsoever to a broad Cockney to an Irish brogue to something undefinable).

At least fellow-Yank Cook has the sense not to even attempt an accent, though her character is so nondescript that she barely registers.

"Blow Dry" is rated R for scattered strong profanity, fleeting female nudity, crude sight gags and discussions (sexually explicit in nature) and brief violence (gunfire and implied). Running time: 93 minutes.