It’s not a good hair day for “Blow Dry,” in which “The Full Monty” writer Simon Beaufoy tries to mesh melodrama and camp, but comes up with merely a fraction of the inspiration of his previous international hit. The film equivalent of a cut and a trim rather than the whole ‘do, tale depicts a broken family brought back together by the annual British hairdressing championships, held in the aging Yorkshire burg of Keighley. As he did in “Monty,” Beaufoy employs the elements of a competition, a working class milieu and broadly drawn types, but now it all feels rote. Awkwardly cast with Brit and Yank thesps, this limp comedy-drama isn’t likely to make much of a B.O. impression, but will hold its own in the ancillary phases of the competition.
Pic establishes the characters and situation as if off a laundry list, moving mechanically from the announcement of the choice of Keighley as site of the competition by its goofy mayor (Warren Clarke); to barber Phil (Alan Rickman), who once ruled as hair champ; to his son Brian (Josh Hartnett), who works in dad’s shop and is eager to enter the contest; to ex-wife Shelly (Natasha Richardson), who runs a local salon with her lover Sandra (Rachel Griffiths) and learns early on that she has incurable cancer.
Clashing with this maudlin drama is the arch comedy of the contest itself, dominated by Phil’s old nemesis, south London cutter Ray (Bill Nighy), who has brought over his American-based daughter Christina (Rachael Leigh Cook) to serve as a hair colorist.
Within the first 10 minutes, the conflicting tones are clearly more than director Paddy Breathnach is able to reconcile, and things get no better with the additional dollops of black humor, including Brian’s method of practicing his art by trimming the locks of corpses in a funeral home.
Even as the film is bedeviled by narrative split ends, courses of the various character relationships are terribly predictable. Brian is driven to compete against Ray when the foppish cutter tries to get under Phil’s skin and insult his pride.
But this at least makes some sense compared with Shelly’s odd decision not to tell Sandra of her cancer.
Rather than explore Shelly’s curious contradictions, “Blow Dry” slavishly and pointlessly jumps back and forth between camp and family conflicts. Brian’s initial interest in Christina is another promising story strand that goes dangling: Having known her when they were both children, Brian is seemingly heartbroken when he spots Christina helping her scheming dad cheat on the competition. Shelly’s inevitable confession to Sandra is as unmoving as the finale is unstylishly filmed.
Although “Blow Dry” is full of talented thesps, this particular combination produces no magic. Rickman’s performance tends to turn Phil’s chip-on-the-shoulder attitude into dull glumness. While Richardson has to carry the meller load — and does so with class — Griffiths is made to play more comically, and one bit where she poses as a geisha is disastrous.
Though it’s never explained how Christina could be a Yank, Cook brightens up what might have been a ridiculous situation, and she plays well opposite the always thoughtful and subtle Hartnett, who marshals a convincing Yorkshire dialect.
Nighy may have been funny once as the fatuous heavy, but it’s become depressing typecasting.
The wide-ranging support stretches from the venerable Rosemary Harris as Shelly’s loving, blind mother, and supermodel Heidi Klum doing a bitchy pose as — what else? — a model, to Clarke in one of his rare feature forays since his splashy turn as a droog in “A Clockwork Orange.”
Tech credits are undistinguished, including a Patrick Doyle score that sounds like an afterthought, and exceptionally poor coverage of what fleetingly appear to be stunning Yorkshire landscapes.