Isla Fisher in Confessions of a ShopaholicCONFESSIONS OF A SHOPAHOLIC

Since I'm not their target demographic, I guess it shouldn't bother me that so many perky, theoretically harmless chick flicks these days are so breathtakingly shrill and stupid. But why doesn't it bother their target demographic? January gave us the offensively unfunny Bride Wars, and now, hot on that film's stiletto heels, comes Confessions of a Shopaholic, which trashes its promising setup and excellent performers in a candy-colored morass of clichés, contrivances, and incessant brainlessness. The film is like a rom-com take on Speed Racer - it even has John Goodman as a loveably ineffectual dad - and it doesn't feature one moment of recognizable human behavior. And audience members still applauded at the end.

I'd like to think they were clapping for lead Isla Fisher, because this appealing, beautiful, radiantly gifted comedienne is certainly worthy of applause. Just not here. Confessions casts Fisher as Rebecca Bloomwood, a journalist for a Manhattan gardening magazine, and we may as well stop right there, because from her first seconds on-screen, Rebecca doesn't suggest the frontal-lobe activity to compose a grocery list, much less an entire magazine article. Yet through a series of absurdly implausible events that only a Hollywood screenwriter (or, in this movie's case, three of 'em) could devise, this pop-eyed ditz with a dangerous addiction to her credit cards lands a plum writing gig for an upscale money mag, and becomes a pseudonymous media darling for her "everyday gal" approach to economics, comparing stock purchases to the buying of shoes and whatnot. But what oh what will Rebecca's readers and employers do when they discover that this presumed financial savant can't pay off her mounting shopping debts?

Even though the storyline is ridiculous in about a dozen different ways, it's not entirely unsalvageable, and a comedy about America's collective buy-now-and-pay-later-and-for-the-rest-of-your-life mentality is nothing if not timely. Sadly, though, Confessions is as empty-headed and superficial as its heroine, and while Rebecca inevitably grows a conscience, the film itself never does; from beginning to end, it steadfastly (and un-ironically) celebrates the joys of selfishness, materialism, vapidity, and really hideous wardrobe selections. There's an almost obscene amount of talent on display - beyond Goodman, the cast includes Hugh Dancy, Joan Cusack, Kristin Scott Thomas, John Lithgow, Julie Hagerty, Christine Ebersole, and Ed Helms - but almost no one ends up looking good, because director P.J. Hogan has them all pitched at varying levels of cartoonishness, and the actors' fraudulence is matched by the movie's assaultive, DayGlo color schemes. (When Hogan can't find enough eyesores in Manhattan, he shifts the setting to Miami.) Confessions is so relentlessly phony it's practically migraine-inducing; along with your ticket, the box office should provide a couple of Advil.

To be fair, Hogan's comedy does feature surprisingly sharp and snappy editing rhythms, and it even boasts some truly magical visual effects, when a series of eyeless department-store mannequins - looking like benevolent versions of the liquid-metal baddie in Terminator II - spring to life and goad Rebecca into unnecessary purchases. But Confessions of a Shopaholic is still a drag, and unequivocally senseless even through its final reel, when Rebecca turns down any magazine writer's dream job - a high-paying column in which she'd have to write 500 words a month. What an idiot.


Clive Owen in The InternationalTHE INTERNATIONAL

Director Tom Tykwer's The International is, as its title suggests, one of those globe-trotting thrillers in which well-dressed men follow (and occasionally shoot) one another in various picturesque locales while title crawls on the screen read "New York" and "Berlin" and "Istanbul" ... and if your eyes are already starting to glaze over, just imagine what the experience of the movie is like. Granted, this sort of "classy" espionage entertainment - in which two incorruptible white knights (embodied here by a typically unshaven Clive Owen and a pallid-looking Naomi Watts) attempt to tear down a monolithic bureaucracy dealing in money and murder - tends to bore me from the get-go. But even still, Tykwer's film, with its incoherently convoluted script by Eric Warren Singer, is a mostly lugubrious chore, filled with tired genre tropes, predictable shadow figures (it'll come as no surprise when that snaky German whisperer Armin Mueller-Stahl shows up), and reams of bum dialogue.

Yet there's one scene in The International that is so stunningly good it almost makes the whole experience worthwhile. In it, Owen and a pair of cops follow a suspected assassin to the Guggenheim Museum, and what starts as a visually dexterous game of cat and mouse - with the camera gliding along those majestic spirals of art - turns into a fantastically vicious and violent shoot-out, complete with a cacophony of shattering glass, horrific tumbles off balconies, and even (in a nice break) a killer joke, as a hapless bystander nearly gets a bullet between the eyes when his cell phone goes off. This show-stopping sequence is as illogical as anything in The International, but numerous thrillers have become legendary without featuring a scene even half as exciting as this one.

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