Bette Midler, Nathan Lane, Stockard Channing

Maybe Isn't She Great, a comic biopic about novelist Jacqueline Susann, would have worked better as a musical. The title already makes it sound like one, and we know that Midler, who plays Susann, can sing (so can Lane, who is cast as her adoring husband, publicist Irving Mansfield). Great depicts Susann, the author of such trashy, sex-filled epics as Valley of the Dolls and Once Is Not Enough, as a lovable monster who would stop at nothing to get what she wanted, which was worldwide fame. "I crave," she admits, "mass love." Successful musicals are filled with similar oxygen-hogging creatures: Think of Dolly Levi in Hello, Dolly! and Professor Harold Hill in The Music Man. Susann, or at least the version of her seen here, fits easily into their braying, needy ranks.

Unfortunately, Great is not a musical. It is simply a bad movie made by good people. Despite the combined talents of stars Midler and Lane, director Andrew Bergman (The Freshman and Honeymoon in Vegas) and screenwriter Paul Rudnick (In & Out), all skilled hands at making viewers laugh, Great is as misconceived as a beach vacation during jellyfish season.

The trouble lies in the movie's schizophrenic attitude toward its subject, which alternates between scorn and overripe bathos. Thus, viewers get scene after scene depicting Susann as the ultimate vulgarian, a brassy babe who declares to admirers, "If they tell you that you're some loud, crude, pushy little nothing in a too-tight dress and too much makeup, you tell 'em, 'Just look at Jackie Susann.' " But in between these scenes, Great wants audiences to feel Susann's pain—literally. She is seen visiting her institutionalized autistic son Guy and being treated for the breast cancer that would eventually kill her at age 53 in 1974.

Midler plays Susann as a cross between Sunset Boulevard's Norma Desmond and Roseanne. It is a scary combination. Lane has little to do other than gaze at his wife worshipfully. This leaves Channing, as a flamboyant actress who is Susann's best friend, to steal every scene, which she does with style. (R)

Bottom Line: Once is more than enough

Craig Ferguson, Frances Fisher, Mary McCormack

Crawford Mackenzie is not a man to poor-mouth his own skills. "I'm called the Red Adair of hair," he declares, invoking the famous oil-field firefighter, "because if there's a disaster, they call me in." Tease is a mildly amusing mockumentary about the misadventures that beset a Scottish hairdresser (Ferguson, who plays Mr. Wick on The Drew Carey Show) when he travels from Glasgow to Los Angeles to wield scissors and mousse in a prestigious styling competition. Our hero soon learns that the world of celeb salons is a snippy one. If he expects to play with the big boys of Hollywood hair, he will have to sharpen more than his scissors.

Although Tease could use a trim, Ferguson, who also cowrote the movie, is a goofily agreeable actor. Thanks to his appeal, one's goodwill toward this slight movie lasts as long as it does. Television stars who make cameos—most of them prove pointless—include Drew Carey, David Hasselhoff (Ferguson asks which hair-care products the Baywatch star uses to combat water and wind damage), Roseanne's Sara Gilbert and Mad About You's John Pankow, as well as models Kylie Bax and Veronica Webb. (R)

Bottom Line: Hair today, gone tomorrow

Sundance

It was 9:45 on a Monday morning, but the theater was packed. Word was out that Girlfight, an inspiring drama about a high school girl from Brooklyn who finds meaning to her life after taking up boxing, could be a contender at this year's Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. The word was right. Girlfight, the debut film by writer-director Karyn Kusama, packs a wallop and boasts a gloriously fierce lead performance by newcomer Michelle Rodriguez.

Discovering new filmmakers and actors is what Sundance is all about. The festival focuses on low-budget independent films and in previous years served as the launching pad for The Blair Witch Project and sex, lies and video-tape. Movies at Sundance this year that were either hotly anticipated or deserve attention include:

American Psycho, director Mary Harron's audacious adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis's controversial 1991 novel about a yuppie serial killer. While Psycho, starring Christian Bale, succeeds as a satire in its early reels, its preoccupation with making fun of '80s excess wears thin fast.

Committed, an appealing romantic comedy by director Lisa Krueger (Manny & Lo). Heather Graham glows as a woman determined to stick to her marriage vows.

Two Family House, a winningly sweet film about chasing one's dreams, with Michael Rispoli and seemingly half the cast of The Sopranos. Rispoli plays an Italian-American factory worker who wants to open his own bar.

Angela's Ashes Great books rarely make great movies, and this film version of Frank McCourt's bestselling memoir is no exception. Children die, Dad drinks and it rains. And rains. (R)

The Cider House Rules Moving drama about a young man (Tobey Maguire) who ventures out to see the world after growing up in an orphanage. Michael Caine costars. (PG-13)

Down to You Freddie Prinze Jr., soulful-eyed, puppyish and earnest, stars with Julia Stiles in a by-the-numbers tale of first love at college. It's so high school. (PG-13)

The Hurricane Denzel Washington gives a powerhouse performance as wrongly imprisoned boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter. (R)

My Dog Skip A 10-year-old boy learns about life, love and forgiveness from his dog. A family film that the whole family will enjoy—really. (PG)

Supernova Voyage to nowhere. You're better off staying home. (PG-13)

Sweet and Lowdown Woody Allen's latest stars Sean Penn as a brilliant jazz guitarist who is a louse of a human being. Funny for two-thirds, then dribbles away. (PG-13)