Only in LA: There's a bust-up at the box-office

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THERE'S NOT much intellectual insight about the female breast to be gleaned from the current crop of Hollywood summer movies, but it certainly isn't for the lack of exposure. Low of brow but broad of chest: that appears to be the formula for box-office magic this year. From Nicole Kidman and a whole orgy's worth of topless beauties in Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut, to the buxom Russian agent Ivana Humpalot in the new Austin Powers movie, The Spy Who Shagged Me, there are busts to suit all tastes and all levels of cinematic sophistication.

Does this suggest that film marketing is sinking to new levels of crudeness? Sadly, it does. In the new Adam Sandler comedy, Big Daddy, a runaway box- office success despite abysmal reviews, the actress Leslie Mann (pictured) plays an aspiring doctor whose generous chest provides an entire comic leitmotif, getting her through medical school thanks to the waitressing tips they earn before landing her in all sorts of trouble in a court case and at a birthday party.

If there is a joke here at all, it would seem to be on the audience, since it turns out that Ms Mann was playing her part somewhat against type. In real life, she has a chest so petite you'd hardly notice it; on screen, she used breasts made of nothing more titillating than industrial jelly. So was her casting a knowing ploy by the film-makers to test the gullibility of audiences?

Actually, no. According to Ms Mann, the male cast and crew spent much of their time drooling and giggling at her as if her falsies were the real thing. "They all followed me around like schoolboys every time I was on the set," she said. "Men are so full of it."

Ah, men. No wonder Hollywood is sinking to such depths.

THE RESTAURANT where Ms Mann's character earns the tips that put her through medical school goes by the less than subtle name of Hooters, a real-life chain whose success is based entirely on the notion that if you put a handful of well-endowed waitresses in skimpy tank tops and orange shorts, you can serve just about anything and the customers will still come flocking.

Hooters started life in the scuzzier depths of Florida, serving chicken wings out of buckets to hordes of enthusiastic sports jocks and frat boys. It has always been resolutely downmarket, which might explain the outburst of righteous anger that has greeted the opening of its most recent branch in the upscale seaside community of Santa Monica on the west side of Los Angeles.

Santa Monica is a haven of liberal values and political correctness, more used to fancy fusion cuisine than sports bars and fast food. Feminists wasted no time decrying Hooters as sexist, while foodies branded it simply crude and unwelcome.

It's hard to know if the overtly displayed breasts or the indifferent fare are cause for greater offence. Certainly, there is a degree of class snobbery, since nearly all Santa Monica restaurants hire good-looking women to serve, even if they don't advertise the fact so brashly.

And there has also been an element of farce, as evidenced by a rowdy public meeting that took place a couple of months ago at which the Hooters management was called upon to defend itself to the city authorities.

"What does Hooters mean?" one local council member demanded angrily.

"Well, we have an owl as a mascot," responded the Hooters manager, pretending not to understand what was the drift of the question.

"Is that what you intend it to mean?"

"Well, people can take it for whatever they want."

Two months on, the Santa Monica Hooters is still there, still raising hackles but doing remarkably brisk business.

"Languish the end result," its menu exhorts customers in a delightfully illiterate turn of phrase. Evidently, there are more languishers in Santa Monica than meets the eye.

IT IS not just American men who appreciate big breasts these days; women and girls, too, are growing in admiration for them, even if it means going under the surgeon's knife to have them artificially enhanced. According to statistics that have been collected by the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons, breast implants are on the rise among girls under the age of 18, and one of the reasons appears to be the popularity of the teen singer Britney Spears.

Rather than heeding the warnings recently issued by Pamela Anderson, who chose to have her implants removed, teenage girls are reportedly turning to Spears as their role model following her widely broadcast appearance on a children's television awards ceremony in May.

Plastic surgeons, reporting a 57 per cent increase in teenage breast implants over the past two years, say their patients invariably ask to be made to look like Britney. There's one strange thing about the fad, though, which is that Ms Spears vociferously denies ever having had any plastic surgery.

"Let me put it this way," the star's mother Lynne says. "If anyone does believe it, I brand them an ignorant goofball."