Holly Hamilton (Hilary Duff) is a frustrated teenager constantly moved around the country by her mother, Jean (Heather Locklear), as Jean searches for a man she can love and marry. Finding a new home in Brooklyn, Holly takes it upon herself to create a perfect "secret admirer" for Jean, using a restaurant owner (Chris Noth, "Sex and the City") with a special feel for women as her template. When Jean becomes wrapped up in this mysterious man, Holly quickly gets in over her head, and she's soon looking for a way to let her love struck mother down without breaking her heart.
One cannot blame tween superstar Hilary Duff for strip-mining her appeal with film after film of forgettable quality. However, "The Perfect Man" (IMDb listing) is a cry for help. This mild, vanilla concoction, which doesn't have a desire in the world to color outside the lines, is reason enough to start thinking that playing mildly perturbed teens is all Duff can do.
"Man" is the kind of softball Hollywood audience-pleaser that completely fails to register on any type of emotional or entertainment level. It's hardly an attack on the senses, and the way it slowly takes a lap around cliche after cliche is maddening. The film clearly doesn't understand it has no substance, no matter how hard it tries. "Man" is too creepy to be a thoughtful romantic comedy, for its foundation is poured with lies and deception, which the picture tries to pass off as tough love and devotion. And "Man" hardly works as a comedy. When faced with supporting cast of Mike O'Malley, Carson Kressley, and Caroline Rhea as the comic relief, it shouldn't shock that "Man" doesn't even contain a simple titter. The rest of the film is a maudlin mush from the screenwriter of "Coyote Ugly," which should give you an indication of the quality and shameless, flavorless manipulation "Man" contains.
There are a few interesting performances inside this hollow creation, but none of them belong to Hilary Duff. The young star (teaming again with her lackluster "Cinderella Story" director Mark Rosman) has simply gone to this well of adolescent awkwardness too many times, and "Man" asks nothing of her aside from odd facial gesturing and non-existent chemistry with her bland love interest (Ben Feldman). Duff relies too much on her known persona. She needs an acting challenge right away, or she'll morph into the new Sandra Dee before she knows it.
Keeping "Man" compelling the best she can is Heather Locklear, who not only bravely embraces her age with this role, but is also able to manufacture a lifeline behind the cartoonish screenwriting she's given. Locklear seems to be the only human on display here, exploring her character's passionate feelings of insecurity and fear of future loneliness with unusual clarity. Frankly, losing Duff and her brand of Teen Beat nonsense in favor of following Locklear around would've done the movie a world of good. Locklear survives the material (even when faced with lame Styx jokes). She's the real reason anyone should view "The Perfect Man."
Filmfodder Grade: D+