Theatrical play seems a mere formality for “The Perfect Man,” a wan romantic comedy destined for heavy rotation on family-skewing cable networks. Hilary Duff’s name-above-title presence may attract teen girls (and the boys who date them) in sufficient numbers for modest opening-weekend coin. But quick fall-off should accelerate fast-forward to homevid and other ancillaries.
Working from story credited to Michael McQuown, Heather Robinson and Katherine Torpey, scripter Gina Wendkos has cobbled together by-the-numbers scenario that occasionally recalls 1999 releases “Anywhere But Here” and “Tumbleweeds.” Much like those two far more substantial pics, “Perfect Man” pivots on the relationship between footloose mother and increasingly disapproving daughter. In this case, however, situation is mined mostly for mild chuckles and tepid sentiment.
Single mom Jean Hamilton (Heather Locklear) overreacts whenever she realizes that her boyfriend is the latest in a long line of losers. Indeed, every time her heart is broken, she packs up her kids — 16-year-old Holly (Duff) and 7-year-old Zoe (Aria Wallace) — and moves to a different city. Latest migration takes family to Brooklyn, where Jean — who spends more time baking confections than any screen character since Mildred Pierce — lands work at bakery run by an old buddy (Kym Whitley).
After being uprooted so many times, Holly is reluctant to begin new relationships, and her view of Mom as a monomaniaclly selfish woman would seem to hold more than a little truth. But Holly finds a new friend in Amy (Vanessa Lengies), a spunky Brooklynite, and even recognizes romantic potential in Adam (Ben Feldman), another classmate. So she’s deeply concerned when Jean appears poised to repeat the same old mistakes by hooking up with Lenny (Mike O’Malley), a fellow bakery employee who’s entirely too fond of ’80s hair bands and muscle cars.
To distract her mother from an obvious Mr. Wrong, Holly invents a “secret admirer” to woo Jean with flowers, love letters, e-mails and other tokens of esteem. Since this is a family-skewing comedy and not an episode of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” Jean assumes her unseen beau is a sweetie, not a stalker.
Trouble is, Holly is hard-pressed to sustain the hoax and soon turns to using unwitting input from Amy’s uncle, hunky restauranteur Ben Cooper (Chris Noth). Holly borrows character traits, life lessons and even a first name from Ben to make her imaginary gentleman caller all the more believable.
One thing leads to another — though not very quickly, alas — as helmer Mark Rosman plods toward a series of happy endings to reward almost every character on screen. (Poor Lenny gets the fuzzy end of the lollipop, which may upset auds amused by O’Malley’s surprisingly engaging performance.) Pic feels padded by a good 10 or 15 minutes, and the slow pace gives aud far too much time to question what’s said and done (and left unsaid) by characters.
Locklear does her best to tone down her glam quotient. And Noth is appealing in a thinly written role. But pic is Duff’s world, and everybody else is just a satellite. Young actress is well cast and more than competent, easily handling the slangy narration.
For most part, “The Perfect Man” is too bland to merit anything more censorious than a stifled yawn. Even so, Carson Cressley’s broad portrayal of a mincing gay bartender at Ben’s restaurant may offend those who make a point of being offended by such things. Unusually drab lensing by John R. Leonetti may look slightly better on TV screens. Toronto locations adequately sub for Brooklyn.