Someday, a movie will be made in which the hero leaves the homey backwaters of Capraville U.S.A. for a steely metropolis and never thinks of going back, so wowed is he or she by a fast-paced, exciting world with a rich art and culture scene, ethnic diversity, and the possibility of Chinese takeout in the middle of the night. Meanwhile, country trounces city again in Sweet Home Alabama, a romantic comedy so cozily formulaic that the title more or less gives away the ending. The film does coast along smoothly to the inevitable, which is a credit to the always-game Reese Witherspoon, who's courteous enough to pretend she doesn't know what's coming, then make it look like a huge surprise. Seven years in New York City have turned Witherspoon into a full-fledged urbanite, capable of barking into cell phones and mingling with the social elite without giving away her trailer-trash roots. With her high-end fashion label poised to make her the toast of the town, Witherspoon accepts a marriage proposal from boyfriend Patrick Dempsey, a future political star who happens to be the son of Mayor Candice Bergen. Before the wedding, Witherspoon returns home to a rustic hick town in Alabama to settle one major piece of unfinished business: She hasn't officially divorced from Josh Lucas, her childhood sweetheart. In the film's least amusing subplot, the disapproving Bergen dispatches a team of political operatives and hatchet men to follow Witherspoon and expose her as a commoner. (For some reason, Bergen has agreed to play a role that could have been ghostwritten by her old nemesis Dan Quayle: a conniving, blue-blooded Democrat who can't abide the poor people who elected her.) Sweet Home Alabama takes place in the sort of backlot-phony town that only exists in the minds of people from Los Angeles, a timeless berg where lovable yokels gather for dances in the moonlit square. For Witherspoon, the choice is clear: Return to the cynicism and corruption of the big city with a bland Ralph Bellamy type, or lead a slow-paced life with Lucas in the Deep South, where she can enjoy the simple pleasures of chicken-fried steak, double-wides, and her father's Civil War reenactments. Director Andy Tennant, who specializes in girlish fantasies such as Ever After and the Mary-Kate & Ashley Olsen vehicle It Takes Two, knows better than to tinker with his own success. With Sweet Home Alabama, he delivers exactly as advertised.
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