In "The House Bunny," Anna Faris steps up to her first full-fledged leading role and falls right on her adorable face. There's no question about her comic skills; she has been a hoot and a half in the "Scary Movie" series. But this film, a custom-crafted star vehicle that Faris developed and co-produced, is a wasteland of humor where sickly jokes go to die. This dumb "Bunny" should have stayed in its hole.
The premise is simplicity itself, or more accurately, stupidity itself. Shelley, a dim but dear Playboy bunny evicted from Hugh Hefner's Los Angeles mansion, signs on as the house mother at a sorority of unpopular she-geeks. Outcast helps outcasts as she teaches them the ways of water bras, eyeliner and flirtation and they provide a mental makeover, introducing Shelley to the world of ideas and inner beauty. It's a tepid rehash of "Legally Blonde"; Kirsten Smith and Karen McCullah Lutz are responsible for both stories. The same story twice, actually.
Faris is nothing if not game (she underwent a DeNiro-like physical transformation for the sex bomb role), but the scenario is as skimpy as her costumes. The nerdy sorority girls are by-the-numbers stock figures, a brainiac (Emma Stone, currently stealing the screen in "The Rocker"), a brash goth feminist (Kat Dennings), a wallflower in a body brace (Rumer Willis), an oafish female Blutarsky (Dana Goodman), and so on. The script tries to wring suggestive implications out of manholes and hot dogs, and romantic suspense out of the chemistry-free relationship between Shelley and an uptight retirement home administrator (Colin Hanks).
There are a number of random laughs. For no earthly reason, Shelley repeats people's names in an "Exorcist" growl to help her memory, and her re-creation of the Marilyn Monroe steam-vent scene from "The Seven-Year Itch" produces funny complications. For most of the film's interminable length, though, the jokes teeter along like Shelley atop her sky-high stripper heels.
Stone, who has been increasingly impressive since her attention-getting turn in "Superbad," grabs the picture and runs away with it as Natalie, the sorority's resident scholar. A bright and animated comic actress, she can use hesitations, intonations and gesticulations to electroshock lifeless dialogue into vitality. Although Faris crafted this film as her calling card, it's Stone who becomes the breakout star.
The film's other player of note is Hugh M. Hefner playing himself. All that can be said of his screen appearance is that if Peter Jackson's upcoming production of "The Hobbit" casts a live actor as Gollum, they should give Hef's people a call.
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186