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'The Devil Wears Prada' Wears Thin

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

With nearly 100 films competing for summer box office dollars, Hollywood studios choose their opening date battles very carefully. Last week, the Adam Sandler comedy Click had the weekend virtually to itself. Next week, moviegoers will duck the firepower of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest.

But this week, despite the fact that Superman Returns is soaring over the competition on some 4,000 screens, another film opens on close to 3,000 screens. It's a comedy about the fashion industry specifically aimed at women. It's called The Devil Wears Prada.

Bob Mondello says it's not quite ready to wear.

BOB MONDELLO reporting:

If you're telling a Cinderella story, you need a good wicked stepmother, and The Devil Wears Prada has Meryl Streep playing Miranda Priestly. She's the demanding, hard-driving editor of the fashion magazine Runway. And she enters the film at full stride, terrorizing her staff.

(Soundbite of The Devil Wears Prada)

Ms. MERYL STREEP (as Miranda Priestly): I don't understand why it's so difficult to confirm an appointment.

Unidentified Woman: I know. I'm sorry, Miranda. I actually did confirm -

Ms. STREEP: Tales of your incompetence do not interest me. Tell Simone I'm not going to approve that girl that she sent me for the Brazilian layout. I asked for clean, athletic, smallish. She sent me dirty, tired and paunchy. And RSVP yes to Michael Korr's party. I want the driver to drop me off at 9:30 and pick me up at 9:45 sharp. And then call Natalie at Gloria's Foods and tell her no, for the fortieth time, no. I don't want (unintelligible). I want tortes filled with warm rhubarb compote. Then call my ex-husband and remind him -

MONDELLO: Once wicked stepmother is in place, enter Cinderella, here called Andy Sachs and played by Anne Hathaway as a fresh out of college crusading journalist interviewing a bit cluelessly for the job of Miranda's assistant.

(Soundbite of The Devil Wears Prada)

Ms. ANNE HATHAWAY (as Andy Sachs): Basically it's this or Auto Universe.

Ms. STREEP: So you don't read Runway?

Ms. HATHAWAY: No.

Ms. STREEP: And before today you had never heard of me?

Ms. HATHAWAY: No.

Ms. STREEP: And you have no style or sense of fashion.

Ms. HATHAWAY: Well, um, I think that depends on what your -

Ms. STREEP: No, no. That wasn't a question.

MONDELLO: Andy gets the job despite the interview and when she spills something at lunch is taken under the wing of a fairy godmother of sorts named Nigel.

(Soundbite of The Devil Wear Prada)

Mr. STANLEY TUCCI (as Nigel): Oh never mind. I'm sure you have plenty more polyblend where that came from.

Ms. HATHAWAY: You think my clothes are hideous, I get it. But I'm not going to be in fashion forever, so I don't really see the point of changing everything about myself just because I have this job.

Mr. TUCCI: Yes, that's true. That's surely what this multibillion-dollar industry is all about anyway, isn't it? Inner beauty.

MONDELLO: Could there be a business more ripe for satire than the fashion industry - outside of Hollywood, I mean? In both cases - fashion and Hollywood - the product is, by design, unnecessary but entertaining. The people making the product are, by nature, talented but obsessed with the superficial. The public face of both cultures is beautiful. The backstabbing behind the scenes, less so.

It's a marriage made in heaven, no? So why does the movie feel so toothless? Well, partly because director David Franco hails from TV sitcoms and can't shake their rhythms. Partly because he's trying to turn Anne Hathaway - who's been groomed to look like Julia Roberts - into Mary Tyler Moore. And partly because he's way too fond of fashion montages.

But the bigger problem is that his Cinderella is really hard to root for. To get ahead in a business she sneers at, she abandons her friends, disses her father, mistreats her lover, double crosses a coworker and generally turns into a shrew. Hathaway has a nice smile.

But even with Streep stealing the picture from her at every possible opportunity, it doesn't take long before the Devil Wears Prada wears a little thin.

I'm Bob Mondello. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.