Comedy goes haywire

  • By Robert Horton / Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, August 5, 2004 9:00pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

There’s a near-radical idea trying to get out of “Little Black Book,” an amusing romantic comedy with a truly surreal third act.

The highly wired Brittany Murphy, who lately starred in “Uptown Girls” and “Just Married,” has the lead role here as Stacy, an aspiring broadcast journalist who lands an assistant-to-the-assistant job on a Jerry Springer-like TV show.

When her live-in beau Derek (Ron Livingston, from “Office Space”) leaves on a business trip, Stacy becomes fatally curious about his past love life. In this case, his “little black book” is his handheld personal computer.

This leads to contact with his ex-girlfriends, which will strike you as either wacky, in the manner of an old Doris Day-Rock Hudson picture, or pathological-verging-on-stalking.

The plot has a twist for the third act, which burdens this otherwise zesty romantic comedy with a bit too much awkward horror. Or it makes the film more interesting. I’m not entirely sure which (but either way, plausibility is left at the station).

Holly Hunter brings her intensity to a thankless role as Stacy’s colleague on the show; another Oscar winner, Kathy Bates, plays the Oprah-esque host. Kevin Sussman, whose hair is alarmingly vertical, scores points as the zany officemate.

Two of the ex-girlfriends are ably embodied by Rashida Jones and Josie Maran. The third, Julianne Nicholson, almost tips the movie out of balance.

That’s because Nicholson, the freckled star of “Tully” and “Ally McBeal,” becomes the emotional center of the movie. And when she and Brittany Murphy were onscreen together, I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that the filmmakers had cast the wrong actress in the lead role.

Murphy does have a crack sense of comic timing, and the movie has quite a few funny scenes. In fact, almost every scene is well-staged, expertly paced and brightly written. It’s the overall idea that doesn’t work.

Director Nick Hurran, who has an extensive background in British TV, clearly has some comic gifts. Certain running jokes, like a noisy water cooler, are smartly staged. Keep an eye on this guy.

“Little Black Book” has such impeccable chick-flick credentials that it even pays elaborate homage to “Working Girl,” the watershed Melanie Griffith comedy. It could be a sleeper – a slightly weird sleeper, but a sleeper nonetheless.

Brittany Murphy (left) and Holly Hunter star in “Little Black Book.”

“Little Black Book” HH

Crisp: A comedy that falters in the strangeness (and implausibility) of its third act. Brittany Murphy plays a curious girlfriend who investigates her beau’s ex-flames. Holly Hunter and Julianne Nicholson provide support.

Rated: PG-13 rating is for subject matter.

Now showing: tk

“Little Black Book” HH

Crisp: A comedy that falters in the strangeness (and implausibility) of its third act. Brittany Murphy plays a curious girlfriend who investigates her beau’s ex-flames. Holly Hunter and Julianne Nicholson provide support.

Rated: PG-13 rating is for subject matter.

Now showing: Everett 9, Galaxy, Grand, Marysville, Mountlake, Meridian, Metro, Woodinville, Blue Fox Drive In, Cascade.

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