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Don't Open This 'Black Book'

By Sara Gebhardt
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 6, 2004; Page WE33

FLIPPING past a Jerry Springeresque daytime talk show with a television remote is bad enough. Just a glimpse of ex-lovers questioning paternity, strippers on parade and betrayed friends entangled in fisticuffs is enough to give any discerning person pause about the state of American culture.

So watching "Little Black Book," whose plot involves the unseemly elements of a trashy television talk show, and not being able to turn it off each time it crosses the line of decency is slightly disturbing. Even more disturbing, however, is that the romantic comedy fails on most levels, including its attempt to sufficiently poke fun of bad, sleazy reality television.


Brittany Murphy, left, and Holly Hunter do some snooping in "Little Black Book." (Zade Rosenthal -- Columbia Pictures)


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It's not well scripted enough or well acted enough to do much of anything, save make anyone watching really hate Brittany Murphy for being so annoying and so incredibly unlikely as a cute twenty-something Diane Sawyer wannabe. It's not even fully acted, since Murphy's character, Stacy Holt, basically narrates half of the movie. And when she's not stringing together cliches about life and love in her narration or trying to act like a girlfriend who is investigating past relationships of her boyfriend, Derek (Ron Livingston), she steps her annoyance level up a notch by singing multiple renditions of Carly Simon songs.

As an associate producer for the "Kippie Kann Show," hosted by Kippie Kann (Kathy Bates), Stacy discovers that Derek dated a former show guest. When Derek refuses to talk about his bulimic supermodel ex, Stacy wonders why. Her co-worker Barb (Holly Hunter) encourages Stacy to delve into Derek's past by interviewing his previous girlfriends under the false pretense that they would be positively featured as successful career women on the talk show. While Derek is out of town on business, Stacy searches the Palm Pilot -- the modern "little black book" -- he left behind to begin her quest.

Stacy's research apparently teaches her something about the Mr. Right she seeks, but the point of the bigger picture is unclear. Just like a television talk show that follows a formula and dumbs itself down considerably, the film resorts to the kind of humor that gets a reaction only because a sign tells viewers to laugh or make noise.

Not much in the film would warrant even canned laughter, especially when there are scenes like the one in which Stacy visits one of Derek's old girlfriends, a gynecologist. Stacy thinks the woman is a podiatrist, so she makes an appointment to check out her warts. Uncomfortable bathroom humor ensues as Stacy realizes her error, and all of a sudden, she is undergoing a thorough gynecological exam.

You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who really thinks watching a woman put her legs in stirrups while a doctor uses a metal device to do a checkup is funny. Unless, of course, they are the strippers, prostitutes, cheating spouses or countless others who allow themselves to be demeaned and promote ignorance on national television day in and day out.

Without a lot of comedy or much romance, "Little Black Book" is yet another episode you can afford to miss.

LITTLE BLACK BOOK (PG-13, 105 minutes) -- Contains sexual content and language and a fairly graphic scene involving a gynecological exam. Area theaters.


© 2004 The Washington Post Company