The movie follows a handful of oddballs who pin their hopes on winning Britain's annual hairdressing contest. Good concept, but Beaufoy doesn't generate many laughs from the flamboyant personalities, garish hairdos or even the event's built-in narcissism. He and helmer Paddy Breathnach (who also directed the forgettable "I Went Down") slop up a wildly unfunny helping of all three.
The story revolves around three Brits from the small town hosting the hair-styling contest, who join together to defeat a preening outsider. Phil (Alan Rickman) must be coaxed into joining his ex-wife Shelly (Natasha Richardson) and the other woman (Rachel Griffiths) on Team Hair.
It has been a few years since Phil has seen Shelly. Now, his ex-wife has cancer (what kind and how it has changed her isn't important in this wet towel of a movie). Before you can say shameless sympathy ploy, Beaufoy uses the woman's illness to rally everyone around her for the final hair showdown.
Obviously uninspired by the fatuous script, the talented cast mostly sleepwalks through the material. Richardson fares the best, wading through the pride and tears of her cancer victim. Griffiths, with a mop haircut and sullen demeanor, is barely recognizable as the actress who delivered such perceptive, subtle performances in "Hilary & Jackie" and "Muriel's Wedding."
Many of the movies in this latest crop of emotional British imports have grappled with the county's recently troubled state of affairs--the failings of Thatcherism, dreary economic times and the impact of punk music on the culture. In one of the few interesting moments of "Blow Dry," a hairdresser practicing his art in a funeral parlor stylizes one of the corpses with pink spiked hair. He looks like Sid Vicious, someone says. Like the London Calling sequence in "Billy Elliot," you realize that, yes, punk is truly dead.
Across the Atlantic, the movie was known as "Never Better." At least the U.S. title gives you some indication of what the thing is about. Starring Alan Rickman, Natasha Richardson, Rachel Griffiths, Rachael Leigh Cook and Josh Hartnett. Directed by Paddy Breathnach. Written by Simon Beaufoy. Produced by Ruth Jackson, William Horberg and David Rubin. A Miramax release. Comedy. Rated R for some language and brief nudity. Running time: 90 min