By Alice King
Updated February 07, 2003 at 05:00 AM EST

A kind of toothlessness (and not the tobacco-spittin’ kind) pervades Sweet Home Alabama, which purports to celebrate small-town rednecks — but only the kind who don’t have Confederate flags or problems with gays. Indeed, among the DVD’s bonus features is the pitiful sight of director Andy Tennant meekly explaining why a potentially pivotal character — Erin, an ”All About Eve”-y assistant and romantic rival of Reese Witherspoon’s citified-but-down-home Melanie — was cut from the film. Turns out test audiences thought she may have actually slept with Mel’s guy. ”Unfortunately, Erin had to go,” he says. Excuse me, but who’s making the movie?

Witherspoon is chin-up pert as a rising NYC fashionista forced to contend with her white-trash past after a marriage proposal sends her back to Alabama to wrassle a divorce out of the good-ol’-boy husband (Josh Lucas) she deserted for big-city success. Oh, the lost opportunities to poke fun at rush-rush city folk and hicks from the sticks! After, like, ONE SCENE of fish-out-of-wateriness, Melanie falls prey to the gold-washed homeyness of a South straight out of a focus group and — her JFK Jr.-clone beau (Patrick Dempsey) notwithstanding — the charms of the country-style hunk. Why him? There’s a conceit in the flick about lightning striking twice, but I think it’s really so they could use the title song.