'Little Black Book' actors save script from suffering



Hollywood pros work to the mediocre film's advantage.
By BETSY PICKLE
SCRIPPS HOWARD
"Little Black Book" doesn't always serve its first-rate actors well, but the cast almost disguises the movie's shortcomings.
Though Brittany Murphy gets top billing in this jumbled comedy-drama -- and she's definitely up to the task of carrying the film -- the likable actress is really the featured performer in an incredible ensemble that includes Holly Hunter, Kathy Bates, Ron Livingston, Stephen Tobolowsky and up-and-comers Julianne Nicholson, Rashida Jones and Josie Maran.
"Little Black Book" is a film that doesn't quite know what it wants to be. It starts off like a romantic comedy before veering onto darker and sometimes queasy ground. The lead character's journey is one of drama, but the comic moments often disguise that fact.
Murphy plays Stacy Holt, a new associate producer on "The Kippie Kann Show," a "Jerry Springer"-like talk show shot in Trenton, N.J. Host Kippie (Bates) is on the downhill side of her career, while Stacy hopes this is merely the first rung in her ladder to the top of broadcast journalism.
Stacy's co-workers, Barb (Hunter) and Ira (Kevin Sussman), help her adjust quickly. Through their cynical introduction, she learns how much butt-kissing and backstabbing it takes to succeed.
Shocking discoveries
On the home front, Stacy believes things are fine. She's found a handsome and compatible boyfriend, Derek (Livingston), and she thinks he's the one. Then, while watching an episode of "Kippie" on bulimic models, Stacy discovers that Derek used to date supermodel Lulu Fritz (Maran). She begins to wonder what else she doesn't know about him.
When Derek goes on a business trip and leaves his Palm behind, Barb prods Stacy into prying. She discovers that some of Derek's exes -- in particular, Lulu, hotshot doctor Rachel Keyes (Jones) and chef Joyce (Nicholson) -- aren't as much in the past as she would like for them to be.
The script by Melissa Carter and Elisa Bell plays well at first with its broad, innocuous comedy, complete with gaseous dog. But it makes an awkward transition midway through to straight, potentially searing drama, and the writers aren't strong enough or smart enough to make the audience buy it wholly.
That's where having pros like Hunter, Bates and Tobolowsky works to a mediocre film's advantage. Director Nick Hurran gets out of the way and lets them dazzle, and the movie turns out to be less of a mess than it should be. A not-so-tidy ending also helps.
Murphy and friends deserve better, but they make "Little Black Book" worth a look.

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