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The House Bunny

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It would be easy, even tempting, to dismiss The House Bunny as a formulaic retread, if not for the irrepressible Anna Faris, whose turn as a former Playboy model unleashed on a misfit sorority is nothing less than a revelation. Without her, the latest from Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison production company might have seemed every bit as pedestrian as lame-brained misfires like Strange Wilderness and The Benchwarmers. Instead, Faris, a fearless physical comedienne who deserves a movie worthy of her talents, elevates the material with her unflagging enthusiasm.

The House Bunny was written by Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith, the duo responsible for Legally Blonde, and the similarities are striking. Shelley (Faris) is a 27-year old beauty who takes to the streets of Beverly Hills after her unceremonious eviction from the Playboy mansion. Following an uncomfortable run-in with the police that establishes her as someone possibly too naïve (or sexually demented) to survive outside the surreal confines of Hugh Hefner’s palace, she arrives on sorority row looking for a new support system, preferably one with mixed drinks.

Shelley lands on her feet, more or less, as the housemother to the Zeta Alpha Zeta sisterhood, a homely group of outcasts (including Rumer Willis and Superbad’s Emma Stone) on the verge of losing their charter and their home. Armed with a fistful of Wonderbras and mascara-heavy makeover kits, Shelley transforms her babes-in-waiting into a full-blown pinups, much to the chagrin of a rival sorority whose Revenge of the Nerds-style pranks set up an inevitable showdown.

From there, The House Bunny lovingly invokes all the usual college-comedy clichés en route to a feel-good finale that’s no more far-fetched than anything else the movie has to offer. The Zetas, once proud feminists turned superficial brats, learn to balance Shelley’s Cosmo-inspired teachings with some true-to-themselves individualism. And Shelley gets a brain (and a boy, played by Colin Hanks) to complement her big heart.

The House Bunny is agonizingly unfunny in the early going, but once it hits its stride, Faris energetically wrings laughs from a so-so script tailor-made for her brand of bubbly humor. Whether she’s channeling her inner Marilyn, as she does in a sly parody of The Seven-Year Itch’s signature scene, or dutifully hurling herself into a series of acrobatic pratfalls, Faris proves an engaging presence. Her ability to turn an otherwise mediocre exercise into a charming farce may not earn her any awards, but it gives us something to look forward to -- namely, her next movie.

Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars