'Little Black Book': Way Too Much Face Time

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By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 6, 2004

In "Little Black Book," it's hard to tell which is busier, Brittany Murphy's face or Melissa Carter's plot.

In the former, the eyes are always rolling, the nostrils flaring, the lips puffing or shrinking, smirking, smiling, frowning. Murphy works so hard to -- oof! -- act, you want to slip her a spare Prozac from the stash you brought to get you through the movie.

Meanwhile, in the story concocted by Carter, Murphy's character, Stacy, is using her status as an associate producer of a reality TV show as a cover to investigate her boyfriend's old girlfriends, while the reality show itself is veering wildly out of control, heading toward either meltdown or cannibalism, and Kathy Bates as star Kippie Kann seems to be threatening to explode on camera like someone in a David Cronenberg movie.

But what you feel in "Little Black Book" more than anything is the conflict between the halves of the story: the mooky, sappy, sentimental one about a young woman trying to find twue love and the black, scabrous one about reality TV feeding on human misery for commercial gain. Of the two, the second is at least interesting, for a little while.

The director, Nick Hurran, must have worked in TV for a long time, as the best thing in the picture is his evocation of the competitive animosity among a young, ambitious staff to provide the cynical crew of execs with scoops, smashes, astonishments and higher ratings. Think Sally Jessy Raphael or Ricki Lake: "The Kippie Kann Show" features the routine betrayal and debasement of lower-caste fools who never figure it out until it's too late and the dirty laundry basket of their sordid lives has been dumped on the floor for the edification of a national audience. At least no straight guys ever murder gay guys. Yet the film never really pauses to suggest this is, er, disgusting; in fact, it rather enjoys the professional sadism that underlies the whole thing, and watches with approval as senior producer Barb (excellent Holly Hunter) mentors Stacy into wrecking lives for fun and profit.

Meanwhile, Stacy, in off-hours, has found boyfriend Derek's Little Black Book, which, of course, is now a Little Black Palm Pilot, and is looking up his ex-girlfriends, getting to know them (while pretending to be a TV producer) to try to figure out why he was more committed to them than he seems to be to her. One, it turns out, is a glam Euro-model, another an egotistical doctor, but the third, a chef (Julianne Nicholson), is a woman that Stacy admires. You might wonder why this guy Derek did so well in the woman department, as all seem several leagues above conventionally handsome, emotionally uncompelling Ron Livingston, who plays him.

As you expect, both plots converge in an orgy of recrimination, bathos and unbelievability on daytime TV. If you can't see the big twist coming, you should swear never to see another movie. If you're moved by Murphy's boo-hooing, you should swear to see a shrink and get a life. If you think it's worth it to sit there for 97 minutes for three or possibly four laughs, then you are beyond help.

Little Black Book (97 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for sexual innuendo and hockey.


© 2004 The Washington Post Company

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