Directed by Robert Luketic, starring Reese Witherspoon, Luke Wilson, Matthew Davis and Selma Blair.

Is there any role that Reese Witherspoon can't play? Since coming to mainstream attention as the stalked girlfriend in 1996's 'Fear', she has turned in great performances in films as diverse as 'Pleasantville', 'Cruel Intentions', 'American Psycho' and best of all as the power mad Tracey Flick in 'Election'. Now comes 'Legally Blonde', Witherspoon's cutest performance and most mainstream comic turn to date and one which should see her move closer to Hollywood's A-List.

She plays Elle Woods, a Beverly Hills princess who has just completed her degree in fashion and is now waiting for boyfriend Warner Huntington III (Davis) to pop the question. But on the big night when Elle expects the engagement ring she gets the elbow - Hunter explains that he wants to pursue a law degree and needs "a Jackie not a Marilyn" on his arm to get ahead. Devastated but determined, Elle figures that if Warner's going to Harvard that's where she's going too and manages to pass all the exams. But once she arrives in the hallowed halls she finds herself judged not on her academic ability but the cynical adage that girls with looks don't need books.

With Witherspoon donning 40 different hairstyles for her role as the pouty and perky Elle, 'Legally Blonde' is a ditsy and Day-Glo treat. In style and tone it owes much to the 1995 comedy 'Clueless' but first time director Robert Luketic invests the storyline with enough emotion that you never feel you're just travelling from one gag to another.

When we first meet Elle it seems her hair is brighter than she is but Luketic skilfully shows how quick people judge based on appearance and reveals that Elle is far smarter than anyone gives her credit for. There's the usual fish out of water gags as Elle tries to get to grips with Harvard, a tender romance with a college tutor (Wilson) and later a murder trial where she ends up running the show.

Through every misunderstanding and mix-up Witherspoon is great, managing to strike the right balance between innocence and ambition to create a character that's ripe for the sequel treatment. In the meantime, this is a film that any age group can enjoy and one that's sure to be a Christmas TV favourite in the years to come.

Harry Guerin