Sweet Home Alabama

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The message behind “Sweet Home Alabama” is that Reese Witherspoon is cute. It has no other point; in the hands of almost any other actress I can think of, it would have been nearly unwatchable. Even with her, it is only tolerable, the affable sort of movie you have on in the background to provide a few chuckles while you do something else.

Witherspoon plays Melanie Carmichael, a New York fashion designer on the cusp of becoming the next Big Thing. Her fiance, Andrew Hennings (Patrick Dempsey), is the son of the mayor (Candice Bergen) and has political aspirations himself. But his first priority is Melanie, whom he loves so much that he rents out Tiffany and Co. one night so he can propose to her in privacy and elegance.

Melanie happily says yes — to the dismay of the distrustful mayor, whose reasons for disliking Melanie are not clear — but first must fly home to rural Alabama to divorce the husband of her youth. He is Jake Perry (Josh Lucas), a congenial but shiftless fellow who started as Melanie’s childhood friend, became her teen-age husband, and for the past seven years has been her stubborn skeleton in the closet. He refuses to grant her a divorce because he still loves her, and being home again reminds Melanie that maybe she’s not as far “above” Alabama life as she thought she was.

All that remains is for the movie to kill time until the inevitable conclusion, and that’s where it fails. The whimsical backwoods folks who make up the supporting cast are pleasant enough, but hardly worth watching. The snares and pitfalls that emerge on Melanie’s path to true love are neither original nor funny; they’re just bland. Though the film is not long, it feels longer than it should be. The diversions offered to prevent the end from coming too soon simply aren’t entertaining.

The screenplay, by unknowns Douglas J. Eboch and C. Jay Cox, forgets that we’ve seen all of this before, and often. The direction, by Andy Tennant (“Anna and the King,” “Ever After”), is nothing more than competent. Only Reese Witherspoon — charismatic and feisty as ever — is worth keeping an eye on. And even that’s mostly because of her wardrobe.

C+ (1 hr., 42 min.; PG-13, scattered profanity, mild vulgarity.)

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