The House Bunny

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Opens: Friday, Aug. 22 (Columbia)

It might wear its derivative, "Legally Blonde"-meets-"Mean Girls" trappings like a rhinestone thong, but strip away the second-hand attire, and "The House Bunny" still manages to stand on its own two skyscraper heels thanks to the comic force of nature that is Anna Faris.

While her title character -- a former Playboy Bunny who becomes house mother to a sorry sorority -- borrows liberally from Judy Holliday and Marilyn Monroe, Faris also makes it her own in an irrepressible turn that's hard to resist.

That performance should handily extend Columbia's summer comedy winning streak in a vehicle that plays to males and females, packing some real sleeper potential.

Faris, who strutted her comic stuff in such movies as "Lost in Translation" and the "Scary Movie" franchise, as well as on "Friends" as the surrogate mother of Monica and Chandler's baby, goes for the gold here as the clueless Shelley, who's one of Hugh Hefner's favorites (and Hef's on hand to prove it) until she's turfed from the Playboy Mansion upon turning 27.

Informed that's, like, 59 in Bunny years, Shelley briefly finds herself out on the street before landing a gig transforming the socially challenged residents of the Zeta Alpha Zeta sorority house into bona fide babes.

In the process, while spouting words of wisdom like, "my heart was pounding like a nail," she learns a thing or two from the sisters about the importance of being true to yourself.

If the formula sounds awfully familiar, at least writers Karen McCullah Lutz & Kirsten Smith elected to rip themselves off, having penned "Legally Blonde."

Although moments of inspiration are few and far between, director Fred Wolf (in a vast improvement over his first feature, "Strange Wildnerness"), keeps things bouncing along at an agreeable pace, while allowing Faris plenty of wiggle room.

She's unmistakably the main attraction -- and her hysterical habit of repeating the names of new people she meets in a low growl that summons up "The Exorcist" is destined to become the picture's calling card.

Providing capable backup is a supporting cast including celebrity offspring Colin Hanks and Rumer Willis. "Bunny" also boasts especially amusing turns from "Superbad's" Emma Stone (registering early Lindsay Lohan) as the Zetas' unofficial leader and Kat Dennings as her glib, heavily pierced sorority sister.

Production: Relativity Media, Happy Madison Prods., Alta Loma Entertainment. Cast: Anna Faris, Colin Hanks, Emma Stone. Director: Fred Wolf. Screenwriters: Karen McCullah Lutz & Kirsten Smith. Producers: Adam Sandler, Jack Giarraputo, Allen Covert, Heather Parry. Executive producers: Anna Faris, Kirsten Smith, Karen McCullah Lutz. Director of photography: Shelly Johnson. Production designer: Miss Stewart. Music: Waddy Wachtel. Editor: Debra Chiate. Costume designer: Mona May. Rated PG-13, 98 minutes.

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