In The Perfect Man, teenage Holly Hamilton (Hilary Duff) is saddled with a single mom, Jean (Heather Locklear), who always falls for the wrong guy. This wouldn't be so bad if Jean didn't also fall into deep depressions, not to mention uprooting Holly and her seven-year-old sister, Zoe (Aria Wallace), making them move all over the country in her obsessive search for the perfect man. So Holly decides to concoct an imaginary flawless suitor for Jean, sending her anonymous bouquets and love letters. She's deeply inspired by Ben (Chris Noth), the uncle of her new best friend Amy (Vanessa Lengies), who always seems to do right by the ladies. Eventually, Holly realizes that Ben is the right match for Mom, but how can she undo all her precocious conniving?

It's the loopy plot, more than anything, which sinks this would-be romantic confection. It' s about as stupid as the Billy Wilder-Charles Brackett script for Ernst Lubitsch's 1938 Bluebeard's Eighth Wife, in which Claudette Colbert purposely made Gary Cooper's life miserable in an effort to somehow make him fall in love with her. That comedy, despite the suavity of Lubitsch's direction and the charm of his stars, retained a sour taste similar to that which The Perfect Man engenders. We can accept much and suspend a lot of disbelief in frothy film farces, but these two films push it to the limit and beyond.

Gina Wendkos' script is a sloppy, undeveloped mess. Mark Rosman's direction has a noxiously perky quality, save for an idiotic scene in which Holly turns on the sprinkler system in a restaurant to avert Jean and Ben's meeting, which he stages as if it were a tragedy akin to 9/11. Jean is a struggling baker by profession, which somehow allows her and her girls to move into a Brooklyn apartment which, rent-wise, would probably require three times the salary she makes. The younger daughter, Zoe, has absolutely nothing to do except behave impishly in an outsized pair of glasses undoubtedly inspired by Jerry Maguire's Jonathan Lipnicki.

The sparkling charm which Duff once evinced has largely faded with familiarity and too many indifferent projects like Raise Your Voice, A Cinderella Story and this latest outing. She even seems slightly bored by all the tired antics, phoning in her usual gamut of pouts and patented adorableness. Locklear, looking a little frozen-faced, is utterly defeated by her character. (Jean's eternal amorous optimism seems more than a tad mentally defective: You just want to call child welfare on her.) Noth rather reprises his Mr. Big character from "Sex and the City," less cynical, perhaps, and full of quotable gems like "When a woman gets an orchid, she feels like she's floating on a cloud of infinite possibility," which are meant to convince us of his all-powerful feminine savvy. Along with Caroline Rhea, as a co-worker, Mike O'Malley brings some comic freshness as a hapless suitor of Jean's, who takes her to a Styx tribute-band concert. He's an average Joe, not all that bad, really-as opposed to Ben's smarmy suavity-and not wholly deserving of the utter repulsion with which Holly treats him. Ben Feldman has little to do but be non-threateningly cute as some sort of romantic interest for Holly, who basically uses him for his computer to instant-message sub-Cyrano de Bergerac missives to Jean. Carson Kressley from "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" pops up as a bartender who-huge yawn-is gay, bitchy and full of makeover advice for everyone.
-David Noh