Paris Hilton, Acting Like Herself Again In 'The Hottie'

By Desson Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 8, 2008

The Paris Hilton Question Du Jour: But can she act?

We've seen the Paris of the reality show and a jillion paparazzi snaps, both glamorous and misdemeanorous. We've heard the Paris of the recent album ("Paris"), we've read the autobiography (okay, not really), we've gawped at the infamous sex video and perused the clothing and jewelry lines.

Which brings us to her starring debut in "The Hottie & the Nottie," a nerd-meets-Paris romance that stars Her Itness and some other actors. Yes, she's already appeared on screen in minor roles, including 2005's "House of Wax." But how is the 26-year-old as the marquee headliner? And even if she is dramatically useless -- which even her inner circle might acknowledge -- what is she like?

The answer is simple. She's like . . . Paris. That is to say, she makes an art of being comfortable as herself. Like so many delectable iconettes before her -- Betty Boop, Marilyn Monroe and Jessica Rabbit wiggle most immediately to mind -- she invites us to luxuriate in her beauty without a trace of irony or cynicism. Yet at the same time, she keeps a smidgen of herself hidden. Love her or hate her, we can't help but stare, hoping for some kind of revelation -- either about her, or about us for watching.

Never happens -- which keeps us looking.

And let's be honest. Do we really want to see her play Eva Per¿n or Desdemona or Blanche DuBois, anyway? Which is why it doesn't really matter that the movie . . . (oh, what's the right verb?) bites. Or even that its underlying message espouses something that no one really believes -- that beauty is only skin deep. We are there to watch this hologram-like siren, to contemplate what makes her so inherently fascinating. Think rubbernecking with a bad romantic story attached.

That story goes like this: A nerd named Nate (Joel David Moore) has been obsessed with Cristabelle (guess who) ever since she was 6. Unable to find a satisfying relationship in adulthood, he moves to Santa Monica, where she lives, and begins wooing her, but quickly discovers this romantic opportunity comes with a huge, hideous asterisk.

Her name is June (Christine Lakin), a troll of a woman with warts, excess body hair, and rotting teeth that would be the envy of all Zombie-dom. Cristabelle (the Hottie) is determined to find a man for her best friend (the Nottie) before she dates again. Nate's job is clear. Cue the various deceptions, ruses and farcical shenanigans Nate undergoes before he realizes his ultimate romantic destiny.

"Hottie" could have been a witty, playful affair, in which love is played up against beauty, and Hilton's larger-than-life presence is the inside joke at the heart of everything. But the movie unintentionally uses Hilton's manicured fingers to scratch the scab off a superficial yet surprisingly deep wound, the one so many of us have nursed since grade school. It goes like this: The pretty ones have it better. And the rest of us watch with barely concealed resentment as they saunter through life on gossamer wings of entitlement.

Nate's quest to end up with Cristabelle is as hopeless as Wile E. Coyote's, forever chasing that elusive Roadrunner. That he gets close enough to even befriend her is laughable. We know the truth. Yes we do. And shockingly, we tacitly welcome it. June, we can see from the outset, is just a reasonably attractive actress done up in grotesque makeup. And it's only after she gets a massive makeover that she becomes acceptable to Nate -- and us. Like Nate, we are mere Notties. And we are supposed to feel oh-so privileged for getting to watch Paris through the glass.

The Hottie & the Nottie (91 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for profanity and crude and sexual content.

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