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Duff fluff

Movies | Hilary & Haylie play Paris & Nicole

Issue: "Effective compassion," Sept. 2, 2006

It's hard to imagine a less substantial film than Material Girls (rated PG for several vulgarities and moments of innuendo). Directed by Martha Coolidge, whose resumé is heavy with TV credits, the film feels like an extended episode of The Simple Life with Hilary and Haylie Duff in the Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie roles.

The plot situates a dizzying compendium of stereotypes (air-headed celebrities, villainous CEOs, publicity-hungry trailer trash, virtuous underdogs) amid a series of hackneyed coincidences that propel the cosmetic-heiress sisters Tanzie (Hilary Duff) and Ava (Haylie Duff) Marchetta from riches to rags. Wealthy, famous, and spoiled one moment, they find themselves broke, infamous, and still spoiled the next.

Within 24 hours of the airing of a TV exposé accusing their late father's cosmetics of causing epidermal harm, they accidentally burn down their mansion and suffer the loss of their wardrobes, the plummeting of their stocks, the cancellation of their expense accounts, the theft of their Mercedes, and the calumny of society. (Even while impoverished, however, they retain their glamorous good looks, which prove as useful at procuring favorable treatment as money.)

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Help eventually comes in the form of their Colombian maid (Maria Conchita Alonso), a kindly Marchetta-cosmetics chemist (Marcus Coloma), and a lawyer who does pro bono work on behalf of the underprivileged (Lukas Haas).

Material Girls could have been a wickedly funny parody. The dialogue occasionally glints with wit, and the plot's breakneck pace underscores the shallowness of pop culture. Instead it settles for implying that bratty millionaires are people too, an idea that, while probably true, hardly seems worth the price of a movie ticket.

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