House Bunny, The (United States, 2008)

A movie review by James Berardinelli
House Bunny, The Poster

The House Bunny has a screenplay written with ten-year olds in mind about a subject that deserves an R-rating. The resulting hodgepodge of unfunny, sophomoric humor and PG-13 T&A, frosted by a sheen of appallingly nauseous "drama," makes for such a noxious brew that it's amazing viewers stay in their seats for the entire production. Then again, it takes absorption of the full 100 minutes for the movie's vomit-inducing power to become evident. The House Bunny isn't the worst movie I have ever seen. In fact, it's not even the worst of 2008. But it's bad enough to warrant a heartfelt warning to potential viewers. One wonders if there's a special place in hell reserved for filmmakers who foist this kind of tripe on the public.

One might assume that a film featuring Hugh Hefner, the Playboy Mansion, and a centerfold photo shoot would be enough to guarantee an R-rating. The Playboy culture, after all, is built on a foundation of naked women. However, because the distributor demanded a PG-13, The House Bunny limits its sexual references to innuendo and the only nudity is a quick shot of a body-double's backside. Does anyone not sense the hypocrisy here? And is Hugh Hefner so desperate for publicity that he can't resist being a party to this? Admittedly, the PG-13 makes sense because it's impossible to conceive of an adult finding anything in this film palatable, never mind entertaining.

In essence, The House Bunny is Revenge of the Nerds with girls, although, by comparison, the quality of this production makes that of the 1984 feature seem like the work of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Director Fred Wolf doesn't have a long filmography to judge his career by, but this isn't an auspicious calling card. Perhaps the most appalling aspect of the movie is not its penchant for recycled pratfalls and dumb blonde humor, but its sanctimonious and sentimental climax. The shameless manipulation of this misguided scene is more likely to trigger the gag reflex than tug at the heartstrings.

The House Bunny opens in the Playboy Mansion, with bunny Shelley (Anna Faris) dreaming not of Prince Charming but of a shot at becoming Miss November. A staple through the navel is her fondest dream. Alas, a scheming member of Hef's bevy of busty beauties wants the staple for herself and orchestrates Shelley's ouster from the Mansion. Homeless and brainless, she ends up on a college campus, where she stumbles into the job of House Mother for the Zeta sorority, which is comprised of a small group of misfit (Emma Stone, Kat Dennings, Katharine McPhee, Rumer Willis, Kiely Williams, Dana Goodman, Kimberly Makkouk). Facing the loss of their charter and house, the Zetas are in dire need of pizzazz. So Shelley gives the girls makeovers, organizes a blow-out party, and generally acts as Fairy Godmother to these Cinderellas.

Anna Faris plays Shelley like a cross between Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. The dumb act is cute for about three minutes but quickly grows tiresome. Even more annoying is the character's sudden ability to be eloquent during a big speech at the end. (It should come as no surprise that the writers were responsible for the infinitely more tolerable Legally Blonde.) As Shelley's would-be boyfriend, Colin Hanks is boring, but it's hard to blame him considering the material he's given to work with. Hugh Hefner shows abundant evidence of why he never became an actor. To be fair, there are a few appealing performances: Emma Stone (who reminded me of Lindsay Lohan in The Rocker and did nothing to eliminate the association here), Rumer Willis (who bears a striking resemblance to her mom, Demi Moore), and former American Idol runner-up Katharine McPhee.

At a time when so many filmmakers are attempting to do new and interesting things with comedies, a forgettable throw-back like this is intolerable. There's not a single fresh idea or moment present in the entire movie, and watching the predictable comedy unfold is like hearing your uncle tell the same old jokes (that weren't that funny to begin with) for the dozenth time. The House Bunny deserves credit only for reminding viewers what it's like to lose two hours of one's life and get nothing in return.

House Bunny, The (United States, 2008)

Run Time: 1:40
U.S. Release Date: 2008-08-22
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity, Sexual Situations, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1