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High Heels and Hopes

"The Devil Wears Prada" has the fashion sense to be a fairly predictable melodrama.

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The fish is Andrea (Anne Hathaway), who's landed a dream despite, or because of, the fact that she seems totally wrong for it. She's barely out of journalism school and disdainful of the fashion world, an unlikely hire, uncomfortably dressed like an ad for LL Bean and unaware of the correct spelling of Gabbana. Streep's Miranda Priestly, editor in chief, takes her on anyway, explaining in her uniquely honest way that since all the other skinny, well-dressed graduates had eventually disappointed her, she thought she'd take a chance on the fat girl.

Andrea's induction into the office is not easy. As Miranda's second assistant she answers to No.1, Emily (Emily Blunt), a craven lackey in stilettos, razor-cut hair and glittery eye shadow. Emily is in charge of Miranda's every move, gets to go to all the parties and takes home all the clothing and accessories samples Miranda doesn't want. Andrea, she explains, is only here to get coffee.

Though cunning creatures abound in this mainstream satire/exposé (based on the novel by Lauren Weisberger), Streep's Miranda is Lucifer herself, lighting the way to couture, brushing aside the alternative opinions of mere mortals. In one effective scene, she schools her young and disinterested protégé with the kind of amoral "greed is good" speech from "Wall Street" that levels a convincing broadside against the utilitarianism that says that using clothes for style is silly vanity. Andrea retreats with her tail between her legs, but returns to her post more determined than ever, and the movie finds its central preoccupation : a test of wills between the exacting fashion queen and the intern who would rather be somewhere else but won't give up.

A few fairly predictable stumbles sends the unprepared and uninterested Andrea into the confidences of Nigel (Stanley Tucci), Miranda's right-hand gay man who (again unaccountably) helps her with a stern scolding and some fashion tips. Almost overnight, Andrea is transformed as if she had watched all 237 seasons of "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" back to back. Her hair stylish, shoulders dripping with high-dollar cloth and rear jacked up on Jimmy Choo pumps, she strides to her desk with a new air of slow-motion enhanced confidence, to the dropping jaw of Emily and Miranda. Now one of the Women, she's even become competition.

"The Devil Wears Prada" occasionally promises to be an intriguing investigation of character, one that raises some interesting questions. Should you always do your best, even if you find yourself corrupted in the process? Andrea wants to succeed where all think she'll fail, but when she does, her new all-business attitude and attire distance her from her boyfriend (Adrian Grenier from "Entourage") and other friends. Exactly who's to blame here? Andrea, or the friends who can't accept her trying out a new perspective? Unfortunately, just when the movie looks like it might go in such interesting directions, it becomes a fable in which people start having second thoughts and learning lessons.

Matching the easy narrative, for a movie about fashion "The Devil Wears Prada" is notably unstylish. Almost every Andrea experience is a mini music-video taking her from Point A to Point B, be it the travails of getting really hot Starbucks back to the office without spilling, dealing with her new role as Miranda's walking coat rack or getting her makeover. All are given equal weight, equal decoration. It doesn't matter if Andrea goes on a trip to Paris or a trip to the ladies room, the method is the same pop-music-enhanced montage.

A final judgment is best conveyed in the language of the industry: Those looking for hot fashions draped on a model mainstream movie will be satisfied. Those looking for something more substantial will be left as hungry as this week's cover girl. (PG-13) 109 min. *** S



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