LITTLE BLACK BOOK (PG-13, 105 minutes)
"Little Black Book" takes a neat premise about a girl who spies on her boyfriend's ex-girlfriends and, except for a few amusing exchanges and visual gags, kills it dead. It is murdered by a contradictory mess of a screenplay and a star who painfully overplays her cute quotient. Contrived and confused though it is, the film may offer diversion to teen fans of Brittany Murphy, and those who look to Hollywood for hints on managing one's romantic life.
More appropriate for high-schoolers, the movie uses a lot of sexual innuendo, mild except for a crass joke implying masturbation with a vibrating cell phone and an equally tacky scene about an allegedly comical misunderstanding over vaginal warts. Arrgh. The script also features low-grade profanity and occasional toilet humor. One character smokes.
Murphy plays perky Stacy, who tells us in an opening voiceover about her early years with a single mom, their shared love of Carly Simon songs and her lifelong goal of working for TV newswoman Diane Sawyer. Cloying already, right? Next we find the adult Stacy with a new boyfriend, Derek (Ron Livingston), and a new job at a daytime-TV slugfest a la "Jerry Springer," hosted by a has-been (Kathy Bates). Barb (Holly Hunter), a hyper producer, persuades Stacy to check up on Derek's exes, since Stacy already suspects he talks to them. Lurching between cynicism and treacle, the movie can't decide whether Derek's a cad or Stacy's a simp.
COLLATERAL (R, 120 minutes)
Despite a few gaping credibility lapses, "Collateral" holds together remarkably well as a smart crime thriller through sheer style and attitude. Director Michael Mann's stunning visual approach recalls the lonely, late-night cityscapes of painter Edward Hopper -- updated to present-day Los Angeles and with shootings and shattered glass thrown in. Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx stir up crackling good-vs.-evil chemistry as a hardened hit man and the goodhearted if reticent cab driver he hijacks to drive him through a night of killing.
"Collateral" features shootings, stabbings, fights, chases and a body hurled out a window, but the effect is more stylized than gory. The last third features a frightening sequence as the hit man hunts down targets in an empty office building, then on a train. The film, which also includes strong profanity and mild sexual innuendo, is better geared to high-schoolers 16 and older. Cruise's hit man has a cool, cynical sheen and could seem oddly heroic to impressionable younger teens.
Max, the shy cab driver, dreams of starting a limousine service. After he picks up Vincent (Cruise, with salt-and-pepper hair and shades) and a body falls onto his windshield from an upper-floor apartment, Max (Jamie Foxx) realizes Vincent is dragging him into murder. A nonconfrontational fellow, Max must stop Vincent and save himself.