Directed by Andy Tennant, starring Reese Witherspoon, Josh Lucas, Patrick Dempsey, Candice Bergen, Mary Kay Place and Fred Ward.

It's cold. It's winter. What better than a nice romantic comedy to melt our frost-bitten hearts? With over $120m grossed so far in the US, ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ was a surprise box-office hit, catapulting Reese Witherspoon to the premier league of actresses. Already a solid name in Hollywood, with star performances in 'Election' and 'Cruel Intentions', plus a Golden Globe nomination for her role in the smash-hit 'Legally Blonde', Witherspoon's talent and potential is refreshing, to say the least.

Here she plays fashion designer Melanie Carmichael, who has all-but-abandoned her grass roots for a new life and successful career in New York City. Her love life is just as successful, having nabbed the most eligible bachelor - the Mayor's son - who proposes marriage and a honeymoon in Ireland. Hurrah! … Alas, there's a hitch (pardon the pun) … as her past holds many secrets including a previous marriage to high-school boyfriend and local redneck Jake, who refuses to divorce her. And so the fun starts… or at least it should have.

Cue the introduction to Jake & Co back home in Alabama, as Melanie encounters her old friends and family, and cringes excessively as she returns to her past. For someone who hasn't visited her hometown in seven years, there's a tad too much warmth in the welcome, particularly on the part of her parents. Still, there are some funny moments in the house and her Dad (Fred Ward) is quite an amusing and likeable character, if a little underdeveloped.

With the foreseeable conclusion so obvious, it needs some serious laughs to keep your attention, unfortunately they’re not here. The characters are only mildly funny and some are slightly stereotypical – including an overly-silly depiction of homosexuals. However, Witherspoon is her usual charismatic self, providing some great poses and facial expressions, and basically shining throughout the film. The 'mother' characters, especially, have the potential for some great comedy but it's a potential that is never fulfilled.

'Sweet Home Alabama' is painfully predictable from start to finish. It's all too reminiscent of the banality of last year's 'Serendipity' and the utter silliness of 'The Wedding Planner. It's one of those films where you just want to jump into the director's chair and take over. Let's hope the DVD offers some alternative endings then.

David Byrne