By Lisa Schwarzbaum
Updated February 19, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

Sarah Michelle Gellar, spunky star of The WB’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, has been reduced to bland cutie in Simply Irresistible, which seems like an awful waste of a high Q-rating. Here she plays Amanda Shelton, owner/chef of a failing, if atmospheric, restaurant, who, having been touched by an angel (playwright Christopher Durang, looking singularly uncomfortable as genie/cabbie, and who wouldn’t be?), is blessed with the ability to move diners to tears of joy. And chief among the gastronomically smitten is Tom Bartlett (Powder‘s Sean Patrick Flanery), a sleek executive at the swanky Manhattan boutique Henri Bendel, who is unnerved to find that one bite of an Amanda concoction has the power to change him from a type A personality to a drooling love puppy.

Simply Irresistible is a tuneless variation on the working girl-captivates-Mr. Big formula that has propelled fairy tales as old as Cinderella; for good measure, novice director Mark Tarlov, working from a script by novice writer Judith Roberts, emphasizes the ”magic” with gooey scenes in which the couple literally floats — a maneuver unmatched by the earthbound performances from these well-groomed stars. The real magic is that the project managed to attract Dylan Baker and Patricia Clarkson — standouts in Happiness and High Art, respectively — as Tom’s boss and the boss’ fashionista assistant who uses Amanda’s pastries as an aphrodisiac.

Gellar will, I’m sure, survive this collapsed soufflé with little damage to her Buffyed-up reputation. But one reputation that needs rehabilitation is that of the aggressive working woman who must be dumped by the aggressive working man so he can canoodle with the softer, less threatening heroine. Parker Posey had fun with this thankless role in You’ve Got Mail, and here Amanda Peet assumes the stereotype, barking into a cell phone and fetishizing her electronic calendar. It’s okay for a man to be a reformable yuppie, apparently, but women who run with the wolves are punished by being thrown to them, too, and what’s that about? D