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'The Devil Wears Prada' (** 1/2)

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Posted: Wednesday, July 5, 2006 10:00 pm

"The Devil Wears Prada" attempts to tell a timeless tale with a thoroughly post-modern spin. A sort of hybrid of "The Sweet Smell of Success" and "Sex and the City," the film is, at its heart, the story of how success corrupts - and how the insatiable thirst for money and power can own your soul if you're not careful.

In that regard, its appeal is universal.

However, here is a film that wraps itself up in the same cosmopolitan sensibilities that it attempts to satirize and ultimately tear down. The movie invites the viewer to revel in the soulless glitz and glamour of its characters and the world they inhabit, only to expect the same audience to come away with a sense of down-to-earth spiritual pride when it's all over. Call me old-fashioned, but I don't think it quite works like that.

Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway) is the very picture of innocence. Fresh out of college, she is shunning her graduate studies and endeavoring to break into the journalism business. With her limited experience, the best job she can hope to land - for now - is a gig as an editor's assistant. In Andy's case, that editor happens to be Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep), the ruthless overseer of a major fashion magazine. At first, Andy doesn't seem quite right for the job. She's a tad mousy, and has no eye for the brand of fashion that Miranda's magazine covers. Nonetheless, she is offered the position that "a million girls would kill to have."

Though she's constantly belittled and berated by Miranda (also known as the "dragon lady"), Andy vows to succeed at her new job. Unfortunately for her close friends and significant other (Adrian Grenier, of TV's "Entourage"), success means sacrifice. But how much is Andy willing to give up in her quest to climb the corporate ladder and make her mark on the world?

Taken as a morality play, "The Devil Wears Prada" (based on the best-selling novel by Lauren Weisberger) is passable, if a tad unoriginal. But again, when the movie's main draw seems to be the fashion fetish angle, who exactly does the film appeal to besides the very people it's about? Granted, I'm not much for fashion (if it's clean and hasn't been worn in the past week, it's all right by me), but then, how many people are? Unless you're absolutely enamored with words like "Versace" and "Calvin Klein," you're not likely to find much worth in the film. Those who wouldn't know Prada from Levi's would do better to catch another of summer's many offerings.

If there's a saving grace here, it's Streep. This is hardly Oscar-caliber work, and in no way stands alongside her best performances, but at least it's something different. As this ice-queen fashion editor, Street is both vulnerable and terrifying, often in the same scene. It's always nice to see an actress of Streep's pedigree and experience tackle something unusual for a change, and with this little diversion she has crafted a most memorable anti-heroine - Willie Stark, J.J. Hunsecker and Cruella de Ville all rolled up into one commanding presence.

"The Devil Wears Prada" is rated PG-13 for profanity.

Jason Wallis is a News-Sentinel copy editor. He can be reached at jwallis@runbox.com.

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