Legally Blonde

“Legally Blonde” is a larkish comedy that is delightfully unencumbered by logic or reason. Not a bit of it makes any sense whatsoever, and I do not believe anything that transpires in the film could happen in real life.

Normally, these are liabilities. But with a talented actress like Reese Witherspoon in the lead, it becomes easy to suspend disbelief and just go with it. She makes predictability funny again.

Witherspoon plays Elle Woods, a blond fashion merchandising major at Hot Chicks University (or something like that) who knows a lot about clothes and hair and little about the real world. Her boyfriend, Warner Huntington III (Matthew Davis), gets accepted into Harvard Law and dumps her before he goes. If he’s going to become a senator, he reasons, he needs to marry “a Jackie, not a Marilyn.” Ouch.

Rather than find a new boyfriend, Elle tries to win Warner’s respect by going to Harvard Law School, too. So in the course of one montage, she pulls herself together and gets accepted, and before you know it, she’s startling Warner by showing up in the halls on the first day of classes.

She’s devastated to learn that in the course of that summer, Warner has found a new girlfriend. Her name is Vivian Kensington (Selma Blair), and she’s an icy snob with — of course — dark hair. (In this movie, the good women are blondes, and the bad women are brunettes. This holds true 98 percent of the time throughout the film.)

Elle is still determined to win Warner back, egged on by Paulette (Jennifer Coolidge), the tarty divorcee who does her nails. What follows are the scenes you’d expect: Elle becoming a pretty good law student, showing up Warner in class, using her knowledge of hair and grooming to win a trial for the lawyer she’s interning for, realizing she doesn’t need Warner anyway, falling in love with someone better (Luke Wilson, as a young attorney).

Originality is not the point here, nor are there any particularly brilliant characters or extraordinarily witty exchanges of dialogue. What makes it work is knowing Reese Witherspoon is actually a smart actress playing a dumb character. If they’d cast a dumb actress — Tori Spelling, for example — it would have failed miserably. But seeing Witherspoon act so cluelessly out of place as she strolls across the Harvard lawn in kitschy sunglasses and gaudy outfits is fish-out-of-water comedy at its best. It’s not embarrassing or painful, because we’re laughing WITH the actress while we laugh AT the character.

Jennifer Coolidge (Stifler’s mom from “American Pie”) is vulgarly entertaining, as always. The great Holland Taylor has a nice bit part as a stern professor, and Luke Wilson is his usual easy-going self as Elle’s eventual love interest. (Not actually showing their first kiss is the film’s one step away from cliche.)

Some movies do what others have done before and are boring. Others, like this one, manage to seem fresh despite their inherent staleness. It’s all in how it’s played, the attitude employed, and the amount of self-awareness involved. I suspect the makers of “Legally Blonde” have no disillusions about the cleverness of their work. Silly little comedies need to be done without pretension, and this one couldn’t be less pretentious if it tried.

B (; PG-13, some profanity, some vulgar dialogue.)