You may not immediately place the names of Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith, but the screenwriters are the Shakespeares of American movie comedy.

They achieved this status in part by updating the Bard in 10 Things I Hate About You (a sprightly rethink of Taming of the Shrew) and She's the Man (Twelfth Night). In between they wrote an original, Legally Blonde, an effervescent social satire tweaking mean girls and social-climbing boys, exalting tiny dogs and underdogs.

It is with great regret I report that The House Bunny is their Cymbeline. This loopy tale of a playmate booted from the Playboy mansion and hunting for a safe hutch, boasts the patented Lutz/Smith babble, but not the iridescent bubble.

Despite a winning performance by Anna Faris, the cutest thing in platform shoes since Goldie Hawn, the film falls on its keister so many times that before long the perky pinkness turns bruising black-and-blue. Filmmaker Fred Wolf, who doesn't seem to have been the right man for this job, directs with a heavy hand; the results are more frantic than antic.

Happily, his film has laughs, most of them derived from the premise of a Playboy playmate as an agent of girl power.

After Hugh Hefner (himself) metaphorically kicks Shelley to the curb, she finds a home as the upbeat house mother to a sorority of gloomy feminists lacking interpersonal skills. Within days she has them playing dumb and dressing like bimbos, as a flock of frat boys swoops down on them.

The joke is on the vapid boys. But should moviegoers miss the point, Shelley - attracted to a genial do-gooder (Colin Hanks) - realizes that she, too, needs intellectual skills if she is to have a relationship of more than 20 minutes.

Faris (the hilariously clueless creature of Scary Movie, Lost in Translation, and the underknown Smiley Face) plays Shelley to perfection. With the lemon-mousse hair, orange-tinted skin, and suggestions of surgically enhanced everything, she might as well carry a sign, "I'm not fake anything, I'm real silicon."

The House Bunny **

Directed by Fred Wolf, written by Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith, distributed by Sony Pictures Entertainment. With Anna Faris and Colin Hanks.

Running time: 1 hour, 38 mins.

Parent's guide: PG-13 (sexual innuendo, profanity, coarse humor)

Showing at: area theaters


Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey
at 215-854-5402 or crickey@phillynews.com. Read her blog, Flickgrrl, at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/