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the summer of 00' wasn't a very good one for devout cinephiles .
it offered no blair witches or sixth senses ; the best big budget hollywood could do was an efficient x-men adaptation and a flawed but entertaining shaft update .
nurse betty signals the unofficial end of that dreadful summer movie season and the commencement of a potentially brighter fall movie season , that battery-charging ( at least for critics who have to sit through every piece o' shit that moseys into multiplexes ) time of year when all those oscar contenders ( read : " quality " films ) compete for audiences .
alas betty has the dubious distinction of being the first overpraised junk heap of the new season .
it's also indie director neil labute's first attempt at something resembling a mainstream picture , and i'm sad to report it's a resounding failure ( at least on this web site ) , a mess that's as hopelessly saccharine as people have accused labute's previous films of being unrelentingly masochistic .
i went in expecting something decent , for betty was gleefully praised , it's screenplay even winning an award at cannes , but i exited shaking my noggin in bewilderment .
are critics so desperate for something unique that they're blind to how derivative the particular brand of " uniqueness " betty dolls out is ?
for the first time labute is working from a script he has not written , and he seems unsure of how to handle the material .
betty tries to be hip like pulp fiction ( this is another flick featuring a pair of strangely bright and articulate hit men ) , enchanting like the wizard of oz ( of which this film makes several allusions to ) and heartwarming like [stick in your favorite loveable misfit movie] , but by the end it left me cold with its calculated desperation .
it's labute's half hearted attempt to make a crowd pleaser and he doesn't even seem to have half that heart in it .
nurse betty concerns a soap opera addict , betty ( brilliantly played by renee zellweger ) , who witnesses the killing of her husband , del ( aaron eckhart playing the most casually loutish husband since richard benjamin in diary of a mad housewife ) by two hit men ( morgan freeman and chris rock ) .
she happens to have her most beloved soap on in the background and somehow merges the two realities .
she's blocked out her husband's death and thinks she's a character in her favorite soap , a reason to love .
betty sets out on the road to la ( with some drugs unknowingly stashed in her car trunk ) searching for her soap boyfriend dr . david ravell ( greg kinnear ) while the two bickering hit men follow in not so close pursuit .
the labute who birthed the extraordinary in the company of men , slipped a bit ( but not much ) with his sophomore effort , your friends and neighbors , then fell straight on his ass with bash , a play he penned that was recently aired on showtime .
the play demonstrated no forward movement as an artist , only labute's persistence in wallowing in the horrid things " average " people do to each other , usually with out realizing how horrid they themselves are .
in the play , paul rudd , as an obnoxious jock , delivers a monologue detailing how he once followed a gay man into a bathroom and beat him maybe to death , while his clueless girlfriend essentially regards his sadistic behaviors as something along the old maxim " boys will be boys " .
another character , schlubby businessman reacts to the loss of his job by actually killing his own baby !
what was once so powerful about labute's work , the casual , nonchalant cruelty and selfishness ( often elements we all have in us amplified to a disgusting degree ) had become so over the top it was borderline comic .
obviously , at this point , labute could use a dose of some different kind of material before he pigeon holes himself further , but nurse betty isn't it .
he clearly has little passion for what he's doing here , instead replacing his mojo with strained quirks ( one of the hit men is a huge soap fan , and the character of betty would be little more than a one joke gimmick if zelllweger hadn't managed to transcend that ) tailor made to appeal to the widest possible audience .
nearly every scene between chris rock and morgan freeman fatally slows the picture down , as the two are made to enact soft-boiled tarantino-esque dialogue .
they evince little chemistry , with rock constantly in over the top rant mode , acting more like an angry comic than any thing resembling a hit man ( an occupation that's represented far too frequently in movies nowadays ) .
i think rock is a great comic yet he hasn't been able to bring his feral intelligence to movies , whenever he acts , and no matter the part , it's like he's doing the damn chris rock show .
surprisingly ( at least considering her work in me , myself and irene ) renee zellweger gives a revelatory performance , building on her baby faced , apple pie looks .
that wide-open face and helium voiced earnestness suggests a little girl not fully grown into her thirty-year-old body .
it's the best work she's ever done .
freeman is effective as always , though his performance nonetheless suffers because it seems at odds with where the movie wants to take it .
the actor plays the role in his usual calm , collected manner , though the flick tries to insinuate a symbolic kinship between his character and betty's , suggesting that both are controlled by their fantasies rather than reality .
that's interesting but the movie doesn't do anything with it other than crash land the sub-theme into a labored speech in the midst of a badly staged gun battle .
the film has good moments ( many of the scenes involving a very good greg kinnear , especially his confrontation with zellweger ) , an almost soothing , lyrical score ( and you know a movie's in trouble when the score sticks out as one of the best things about it ) but nothing jells , it's parts , good or bad , are so disparate as to be opposing .
the film might have worked had it settled on being one type of film , a mainstream , female forrest gump or an oddball art film , but as both if it falls as flat as diet coke .
betty's screenplay makes the mistake of relying too much on concurrence , without which betty wouldn't make any progress in the film .
nurse betty is a film driven by coincidence rather than charter , like how betty becomes a nurse in the film , a job that she takes in order to get closer to her imaginary lover ; she happens to be at the hospital at the exact moment that a drive by shooting takes place and miraculously knows how to take care of the victim's wound because she happened to see how on tv , which leads to her being offered a room with the victim's girlfriend who eventually gets betty into a party where she meets kinnear ? ? ? a little too tidy , don'tcha think .
betty has an interesting theme , though it doesn't even seem aware of this .
the current state of tv has been leaning towards reality television what with the enormous success of survivor and moderate success of big brother , with more on the way .
this is a film about a women so deluded as to think that her favorite soap opera is reality ( ironically real-life survivor sean kennif has taken a part as a doctor on the soap opera guiding light ) .
instead of exploring this timely matter in a way relating to the current tv craze ( since the film does largely appear to be a satire of television , albeit one that would feel more appropriate in the '80s than the '00s ) , the film simply uses betty's delusions as a plot device to get her from point a to b . no progress is made and little is unearthed except that maybe labute could use a bit of rest and a lot of contemplation .
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