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By Merle Bertrand | March 19, 2005

That the two main characters in “Southern Belles” are named “Bell” and “Belle” should be a tip-off as to the sophistication level of directors Paul S. Myers’ and Brennan Shroff’s goofy, occasionally grating, but surprisingly endearing comedy. Mercifully, Myers and Shroff don’t beat this pun into the ground, a rare display of subtlety in an otherwise broad, in-your-face display of comedy.

Bell (Laura Breckenridge) and Belle (Anna Faris) have been friends practically since birth, growing up together in a tiny and tranquil Georgia town. Though neither is exactly the sharpest knife in the cutlery drawer, they are smart enough to realize that there has to be more to life than their current existence. Belle is wasting her life for minimum wage as a cashier at a local discount store, where she suffers under the over-enthusiastic, if under-intelligent micro-management of a slavering oafish supervisor. Bell, meanwhile, burns life’s candle as a bartender, babysitting her obnoxious cousin, and fending off the crude advances of her even more obnoxious boyfriend, Hampton (Fred Weller).

Bell begins to come to her senses after breaking up with Hampton, a cartoonish redneck whose only claim to fame is his souped-up Camaro IROC-Z, while Belle’s big moment comes when, driven past the breaking point, she quits her job. Before you can say “grits on the skillet,” the two Dixie debutantes have come up with a scheme to head for the big city lights of Atlanta.

Their plan veers off the tracks almost as soon as it’s hatched, however, when Bell meets the too-good-to-be-true deputy sheriff Rhett Butler (Justin Chambers).

I kid you not.

With no such knight in shining armor on her horizon, Belle devotes herself to raising money for the move, while growing increasingly resentful of Rhett and fearful about Bell’s commitment to their plan; fears that she soon learns are well-founded.

“Southern Belles” is, to use the kind of cliché one might expect to find in this film, about as subtle as a heart attack…which actually kinda works in the film’s favor. Because, while the film is an unabashed chick flick, Myers and Shroff throw in enough cheap laughs and slapstick comedy to appeal to any guy stuck watching it with their significant other. It’s a harmless enough film, guilty only of wounding some Southern pride, (especially that of rural Southern trailer park residents in particular.)

Myers and Shroff had just better hope that, like Bell and Belle, these residents aren’t sophisticated enough to know that someone’s making fun of them.

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