[Screen It]


(2000) (Emily Watson, Dermot Mulroney) (R)

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Comedy: After taking a job at a lakefront casino, a security guard meets a colorful array of characters there and then tries to solve a mystery involving corrupt business and politics.
Trixie Zurbo (EMILY WATSON) is a well-intentioned security guard who's been assigned to undercover work at a lakefront casino watching for pickpockets and the like. Known for butchering well-known sayings through her constant, but unconscious use of malapropisms, Trixie instantly befriends several of the regulars including barfly Ruby Pearli (BRITTANY MURPHY) and washed-up lounge act and impersonator Kirk Stans (NATHAN LANE).

She also meets Dex Lang (DERMOT MULRONEY), a self-proclaimed ladies man who immediately tries to put the moves on her. After repeated attempts at doing so, Dex finally convinces Trixie to come along for an afternoon of fun on a yacht owned by his boss, Red Rafferty (WILL PATTON), a corrupt and mean spirited land developer.

Unbeknownst to Dex, Red has arrived with his two henchmen, Vince (MARK ACHESON) and Sid Deflore (VINCENT GALE), after arranging an impromptu get-together on his yacht for State Senator Drummond Avery (NICK NOLTE) and Dawn Sloane (LESLIE ANN WARREN), a strung-out, lounge singer who never attained success.

Red isn't happy about Trixie's presence, but she makes an impression on both Avery and Sloane before being escorted off the yacht. Upset at what occurred, Dex quits, but before he and Trixie consummate an amorous encounter, the Deflore brothers show up, asking about the whereabouts of Dawn and a missing videotape, before beating up Dex.

A closet sleuth, Trixie then sets out to find Dawn and the videotape, and figure out what's on it that's caused such behavior. As she does - and continues to drop one malapropism after another -- Trixie discovers a web of intrigue, danger and political corruption in her first real detective case.

OUR TAKE: 2 out of 10
With the relatively small number of films made each year and the highly competitive nature of those that make it into the theaters, one would think that a high degree of quality control would exist to ensure that only well-made ones would be released. After all, when box office and artistic success are at stake - not to mention many a filmmaker's future career opportunities - only the best efforts should get the chance to snake their way through projectors across the land.

Of course, what some view as travesties, others see as great pieces of cinema - and vice versa - and some of the worst received films still have their ardent supporters. Even so, checks and balances should be in place along several steps of the filmmaking process to prevent the making and/or release of certain films, at least until they're retooled into something better.

It's doubtful that any but those directly involved in the making of "Trixie," an attempted screwball comedy, will know if any such corrective filters and measures were in place during the planning and shooting of this film. If there were, they obviously weren't effective, as this picture simply doesn't work.

While screwball comedies were once a prevalent form of cinema, they've become all but extinct in the past several decades save for a few efforts by a handful of directors who've paid homage to that genre. Known for combining frenetic action and plenty of highly stylized, verbal material (such as in "It Happened One Night" and "Bringing up Baby"), such films play well in retrospect on TV and video, but really don't fit in with what today's filmmakers and studios think today's audiences wish to see.

That's especially true when they're not well made or conceived, and that's unfortunately the case here. With a lame gumshoe/noir plot that isn't interesting or compelling and wouldn't work as a drama and clearly doesn't as a comedy, the film's "hook" - and what must have been its selling point - is the titular character's unintentional butchering of common phrases.

The first few instances of such malapropisms are somewhat amusing, such as when Trixie states, "You've got to grab the bull by the tail and look it in the eye" and talks about looking through a needle for a haystack. They also come off as slightly interesting since they often take on new and interesting meanings of their own.

Yet, they grow increasingly tiresome and irksome as they continue through the movie and then eventually spread to other characters like an infectious verbal disease. What may have come across as a cute idea on paper just doesn't cut it that well in execution, and unfortunately, that's the best the film has to offer as far as comedy is concerned.

Writer/director Alan Rudolph ("Mortal Thoughts," "Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle"), who marks his seventeenth feature with this effort, also has the politician character played by longtime collaborator Nick Nolte spouting dialogue extracted from the speeches of real-life politicos. Few but the most historically and politically aware will note such usage, however, and in the end such a creative effort comes off as nothing more than an interesting side note of cinematic trivia. The rest of the verbal exchanges/sparring clearly lacks the wit, creativity and sharp writing found in this film's screwball comedy predecessors.

The performances don't compare that well either, especially to those delivered by Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant in "Bringing Up Baby," despite being delivered by the decent cast that's present here. As the titular character, the extremely talented Emily Watson ("Angela's Ashes," "Hilary and Jackie") - who reportedly wanted to get away from heavy dramas for a while in favor of a lightweight comedy -- certainly gives it her all, and if not for the progressively irksome malapropisms, comes off as a fun and likable "ditzy dame."

The charismatic Nathan Lane ("Love's Labour's Lost," "Isn't She Great") also puts in a workman like performance as the washed up, boozing lounge act, but never really transcends the role's stereotype, while Dermot Mulroney ("Where the Money Is," "My Best Friend's Wedding") delivers a decent, if not particularly memorable performance as the roguish ladies man.

Nick Nolte ("Affliction," "The Thin Red Line") certainly infuses a lot of energy - particularly in a verbal sense - into his state senator character and creates a strong, if certainly not likable persona. Rounding out the supporting performances, Brittany Murphy ("Girl, Interrupted," "Clueless"), Leslie Ann Warren ("Teaching Mrs. Tingle," "Victor/Victoria") and Will Patton ("Gone In 60 Seconds," "The Postman") are generally okay, although they also seem trapped in stereotypical characterizations.

While Rudolph has the right intentions with the film - throwing a ditzy character into a situation that's obviously over her head and then allowing her to solve the resultant mystery in her own unique fashion - the execution is all wrong. Instead of feeling tight and on the nose, the basic story - and related dialogue - meanders all over the place, lacking the cohesive feel needed to propel the plot and/or engage the audience.

As a result, the film lacks any sort of comedic or dramatic momentum and thus must then rely on those malapropisms to carry it and entertain the viewer. Unfortunately, neither occurs and the result is a picture that comes off as forced, incredibly lame and clearly boring. Wasting a decent cast as well as what could have been a fun throwback to the screwball comedies of yesteryear, "Trixie" simply doesn't work that well. It rates as just a 2 out of 10.

Reviewed July 18, 2000 / Posted July 28, 2000

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