August 19th, 2006
“Material Girls” turns the lights out on Hilary Duff’s movie career for good. A stale, poorly mapped out comedy, the film doesn’t feature much of a personality, and it seems cruel to suggest that sister Haylie has better acting chops.
Tanzie (Hilary Duff) and Ava (Haylie Duff) are sisters basking in the fame of their late father’s cosmetics fortune. When news breaks that the products might actually be harmful to customers, the empire falls quickly, leaving the sisters broke, homeless, and confused on how to act without their wealth. Taking the lead set by “Erin Brockovich,” the duo and their push-up bras set out to find the creep who torpedoed their dream life, finding love and responsibility on the road to celebrity redemption.
“Material Girls” is the kind of routine, sluggish film that usually signals the end of an actor’s career. In this case, we have Hilary Duff, the charming teenage basic cable actress who always seems to strike out at the cinemas. This time out, she’s got a little family on her side in sister Haylie, and the two aspire to satirize the Hiltonesque cyclone of narcissistic, pampered socialites. Seriously, as bad as “Material” can be at times, at least look at the sunny side of the street: it doesn’t star Paris and Nicky.
There’s little doubt that the Duffs know their way around the pop idol theme of the film, and in short bursts, their performances approach the outer realm of charming. At the very least, “Material” answers the question everyone wants to know: yes, Haylie is the better actress. Still, you could cast Brando and Olivier in the lead roles, and they would still have to work uphill battling this lethargic screenplay.
Using “Erin Brockovich” as inspiration, the story of “Material” is actually quite elaborate considering the limits of the leads and the attention span of the target demo. I’m not exactly talking “Mulholland Dr.” here, but the story is all over the map with rival cosmetic corporation owners, muckraking television journalists, and South American maids with immigration problems. Combine that with far too many scenes of the Duffs riffing their way to dead comedy ends, and the whole enterprise wears out its welcome fast.
There are some laughs in “Material” that pop up out of nowhere. I was particularly fond of watching Tanzie discover the joys of Easy Spirit shoes – a rare scene that finds Hilary breaking out of her teen queen coma and enjoying herself for once.
Has-been director Martha Coolidge calls in a big favor for the supporting cast, asking Anjelica Huston to step in as the heavy. At least she looks like she’s having fun. Indie cheeseball actor Lukas Haas also kicks in a little unpredictability with his performance as Ava’s pro bono lawyer love interest. Haas is a bizarre one here, always smirking into the camera as though he’s wearing silky red panties underneath his suit, giggling that he’s getting away with murder. That brand of mischief is welcome.
“Material Girls” just might be the final nail in the Hilary Duff movie career coffin. Her tween charms have been erased by plastic surgery, and her scripts are getting lazier with every passing year. If there’s one substantial upside to this film, at least the production didn’t bother put any snakes on any planes.
My rating: C-