I suppose Hilary Duff isn't the adolescent, semi-innocent Disney starlet she once was, though I find it completely bizarre that it took an unremarkable ABC Family production to inform me that the actress is ready to tackle adult roles that deal with...you know...sex. "Beauty & the Briefcase" is Duff's trampoline bounce toward the next phase of her career: playing neurotic, overprivileged twentysomething characters in vapid basic cable movies for networks that label themselves as family friendly, yet offer programming that celebrates dubious behavior for impressionable young eyes.
Of course, this is the same network that runs "Coming to America" on Saturday mornings, so perhaps they enjoy a different interpretation of "family entertainment."
Looking for her big break as a fashion writer in New York City, Lane (Hilary Duff) finds herself with a rare opportunity to pitch stories to a Cosmopolitan editor (Jamie Pressly). Armed with an idea for an article about dating in the corporate world, Lane is sent off to get a job and begin assessing the sexual appeal of her co-workers. Landing an assistant gig with an investment banking firm, Lane is confronted with a sea of potential mates, including fussy boss Tom (Michael McMillian), office hunk Seth (Matt Dallas), and barhound dreamboat Liam (Chris Carmack). Juggling the attention of the three men, Lane is immediately overwhelmed, struggling to write an honest account of her thrilling experiences without breaking any hearts.
I suppose Duff and director Gil Junger ("10 Things I Hate About You") shouldn't be counted on to revive the clever, sexy workplace comedy, perhaps recalling the sugar rush of 1988's "Working Girl." That would be asking a little too much. Instead, "Briefcase" is based on a novel by chick-lit author Daniella Brodsky, tracking a shallow character as she schemes halfheartedly to achieve some vague sense of journalism glory, wearing a series of flamboyant outfits and high heels to retain her feminine identity in a sea of drab suits.
"Briefcase" is pure fluff and shouldn't be excessively criticized for its dim-witted demeanor. After all, the only goal laid out here is to keep the female audience drooling over the costumes and fantasy jobs (Cosmopolitan "collaborated" on the film), while setting swoon guns to stun as handsome actors are paraded in front of the camera. It's a simple film, aggressively so, offering potential viewers sheer escapism, not a blistering expose on sexual harassment in the workplace. As long as Duff remains in tight skirts and the men stay dreamy, Junger is pleased.
In the starring role, Duff manages to convey the flighty charms of our hero, skillfully balancing light slapstick with vocational frustration. Lane isn't a particularly intelligent character, lying her way into a job and treating Cosmo with a level of respect typically reserved for The New York Times (she keeps a literal shrine to the magazine in her bedroom), yet Duff has fun with the office tart role and remains a pleasingly colorful focal point for the film, wearing vivid costumes and fluffy hair. The actress handles the maturity of the role well, as Lane sucks down booze while chatting up orgasms and multiple partners, effectively kicking Lizzie McGuire in the teeth.
The men have less to do, but McMillian shows dignity as Lane's uptight boss, offering charm in a predictable role of thawing ice. It's easily the best performance out of the romantic prospects, with poor Matt Dallas looking as though he's been stricken with food poisoning, glumly surviving the movie in a permanent hunched state. It's not fun to watch.
The AVC encoded image (1.78:1 aspect ratio) presentation is custom-built for HD cable broadcast, taking advantage of the situation with lush colors and outstanding clarity. Hues are exciting to see, with costuming contributing to a vibrant image supported by satisfying separation. Detail is also kind, allowing for heavily made-up textures on faces and fabrics, while city life as a special snap about it, capturing the general public particulars. Skintones are natural, while shadow detail is firm, though rarely explored in any substantial way.
The 5.1 DTS-HD sound mix isn't a rousing listening event, instead keeping to a straightforward structure of sound without much in the way of directional activity or musical thrust. Dialogue is key here, offered frontal support to sustain the verbal activity without any distortion. Scoring registers, but remains sedate. Atmospherics offer some dimension, with street life and office activity supplying a tepid circular feel. Low-end is nonexistent.
English SDH and Spanish subtitles are offered.
A Trailer is included.
The expected happens often in "Beauty & the Briefcase," offering little to no surprises outside of the pronounced sexual vibe of the film. It's mild entertainment for older viewers, a perfect fit for the pap programming of Lifetime, not the alleged wholesomeness of ABC Family.