[Screen It]

(2009) (Isla Fisher, Hugh Dancy) (PG)

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Comedy: A young journalist, who's addicted to shopping, inadvertently becomes a financial guru for the common person when she takes a job at a financial publication in hopes of that leading to a similar gig at a fashion-based magazine.
Rebecca Bloomwood (ISLA FISHER) is a young journalist who works for a gardening publication, but dreams of writing for Alette, a fashion magazine run by Alette Naylor (KRISTIN SCOTT THOMAS). Unfortunately for her, leggy Alicia Billington (LESLIE BIBB) filled the position from within. But when Rebecca learns that business nepotism runs deep at the magazine empire run by Edgar West (JOHN LITHGOW), she applies for a writing job at Successful Savings, a financial publication run by Luke Brandon (HUGH DANCY).

His immediate boss, Ryan Koenig (FRED ARMISEN), isn't crazy about him, but Luke has a faithful administrative assistant in Hayley (JULIE HAGERTY), and his job is to resurrect the magazine. Accordingly, he decides to shake things up a bit by hiring Rebecca with the belief that she'll be able to connect with the everyday person rather than just knowledgeable investors.

The only problem -- pointed out in irony by her roommate Suze (KRYSTEN RITTER) -- is that Rebecca is addicted to shopping for high fashion and has racked up credit card bills totaling more than $16,000. She's too proud to ask her financially conservative parents, Jane (JOAN CUSACK) and Graham (JOHN GOODMAN), for money, even in the face of constant harassment from debt collector Derek Smeath (ROBERT STANTON).

From that point on, Rebecca must not only contend with that and becoming an unlikely hit in the financial world, but also falling for Luke, all with her various white lies and shopping addiction threatening to undermine everything she's worked for.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
Oh what a difference less than a decade can make. Back when Brit Sophie Kinsella, a.k.a. Madeline Wickham, published "The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic" (known as "Confessions of a Shopaholic" in America) back in 2000, the economy was flying high, thanks to the dot-com craze. And while their characters weren't involved in that line of work, the gals on HBO's "Sex and the City" epitomized those grand days of seemingly free money by splurging at Manhattan's finest fashion boutiques.

Since then, the bubble burst and recession reared its ugly head, followed by yet another boom. As everyone is now experiencing, that went bust as well, with retail now reeling from consumers hoarding their money for fear of losing everything.

Yet, even in these troubled times, there's a news story this week about an upscale menswear boutique on Park Avenue that's belittling the crisis by having its recession sale prices equaling the ones from the glory days in the belief that its clients and their need for status fashion items are recession proof.

Only time will tell if that's a wise strategy. Which also holds true for the timing of the release of the movie version of Kinsella's work (that's been combined with parts of her sequel, "Shopaholic Takes Manhattan"). After all, will the pic be viewed as an ironic snapshot of the good ol' days (even with the thematic elements of massive credit card debt), a harbinger of things returning to "normal" upon the next (hopefully) inevitable boom, or just a fantasy piece for those who love shopping but currently can't and probably never could afford anything from Manolo Blahnik or Jimmy Choo?

Considering how the film is loosely constructed in terms of reality and how many viewers are looking for mindless escapism nowadays, my guess is with the latter. Yet, the question remains about whether the pic is a wise choice of many a viewer's increasingly diminishing discretionary spending. For fans of the original work, the gist is basically the same, but a fair number of details have been changed, with "for better or worse" lying in the eyes and ears of those who loved or just read the book.

For everyone else (including yours truly), the flick offers a few amusing moments and certainly a game comedic performance by Isla Fisher, almost coming off as a doppelganger of Amy Adams while marking just her second lead after first attracting viewers with her supporting role in "Wedding Crashers." For the most part, however, this isn't a terribly well put together offering, or even just an entertaining one, and a lot of that is due to the manic way P.J. Hogan ("My Best Friend's Wedding") directs his cast.

Of course, some of that could also stem from -- of all people -- Jerry Bruckheimer serving as the film's producer. Not counting that which has fallen into the unintentional variety since then, he hasn't been behind a big screen comedy since way back with "Beverly Hills Cop," and that long gap shows.

Beyond the varyingly successful attempts at zany physical humor (much of which doesn't work or gets old fast), most of the fairly notable cast -- including John Goodman, Joan Cusack, John Lithgow, Lynn Redgrave (in a literally and metaphorically wasted cameo) as well as Kristin Scott Thomas (apparently asked to try to emulate Meryl Streep in "The Devil Wears Prada") -- inhabit thinly fleshed out parts and thus can't do much if anything with them.

As the leads, Fisher clearly gets the lion's share of comedic material, but her romantic comedy style chemistry with co-star Hugh Dancy is flat at best. The fact that little of their characters and related interaction plays out realistically (why on Earth would he hire someone like her -- screenwriters Tracey Jackson, Tim Firth and Kayla Alpert don't give us an credible answer, even when viewed in a comedic context) certainly doesn't help matters.

Unable to successfully and/or believably balance the continued shifts in tone, the cast and crew don't ever get a firm grip on the material. The result has the feel of someone who's gone on a crazed shopping spree without considering if everything that's been purchased and jammed in the bag complements the rest of what's been put in there. "Confessions of a Shopaholic" rates as a 3 out of 10.

Reviewed February 9, 2009 / Posted February 13, 2009

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