A couple of years ago, actress Piper Perabo got her major break in "Coyote Ugly", a light bit of late Summer comedy from producer Jerry Bruckheimer. While that film wasn't anything great, Perabo at least brought some heart and energy to the main character. Still, even with fine performances, Perabo's choice of pictures ("Coyote" and "Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle") made it rather difficult to take her seriously.
Cut to last year, when I watched Perabo in director Lea Pool's "Lost and Delirious" and found a completely different actress. Perabo's passionate performance was heartbreaking and deeply emotional. It was far above any effort the actress had offered prior. Again, Perabo shines in "Slap Her, She's French", but this time, she's really the only thing that's promising in this largely predictable feature, which plays like "Drop Dead Gorgeous" transported South to Texas.
Jane McGregor stars as Starla, a cheerleader and the most popular girl at the local high school. She has the local talent competitions wrapped around her finger and wins the latest effort by declaring that her family will host a foreign exchange student during the school year. In the bargain, Starla's flunking French and maybe the new guest could help her out - or maybe not.
In steps Genevieve LePlouff (Piper Perabo), a mousey French girl who seems shy and often admires Starla. However, signs start to point to the possibility that Genevieve may have more up her sleeve than originally thought - she starts to take Starla's boyfriend, pull in her popularity and trick Starla into getting booted off the cheerleading squad.
Here's where the picture gets into several problems. First, Starla simply isn't a likable character - she's entirely too full of herself, isn't terribly nice and is generally phony. She's supposed to be the hero here, but I wasn't entirely sure of it - I found Perabo's character far more entertaining, as the actress portrays the character's rather sinister motives with amusing energy - she seems to be having a lot of fun with the part.
Aside from the amusing foreign exchange student aspect - which isn't developed nearly enough and doesn't really start to kick in until about 30 minutes in - the film is a lot more of the same. Similar to Kirstin Dunst's character in "Drop Dead Gorgeous" (who I believe, if memory serves me correctly , wanted to be Diane Sawyer), Starla wants to be Katie Couric. Starla eventually falls for the school reporter she previously hates, but the romantic aspect is not well-developed and simply isn't believable. The film didn't seem to portray Texans affectionately, either: there's really not a sympathetic character in the bunch.
"Slap Her, She's French" does live up to the title (the film includes a couple of mildly entertaining slap fights between the girls), but it's unfortunate that the film doesn't live up to it's potential. Although most of the film is built from teen movie cliches, the exchange student aspect should have been played up more strongly, especially due to Perabo's marvelous performance. Rent it.