Even its Carly Simon-obsessed protag wouldn't be so vain as to think that "Little Black Book" will be a hit. Cut-rate pic registers as the least of Hollywood's recent spate of empowerment-themed chick flicks. This schizophrenic relationship pic-cum-showbiz satire has neither fresh ideas nor an entertaining way of presenting the recycled ones.

Even its Carly Simon-obsessed protag wouldn’t be so vain as to think that “Little Black Book” will be a hit. A cut-rate hybrid of “Broadcast News” and “Working Girl,” pic registers as the least of Hollywood’s recent spate of empowerment-themed chick flicks. This schizophrenic relationship pic-cum-showbiz satire has neither fresh ideas nor an entertaining way of presenting the recycled ones.

Ever since she was a little girl, Stacy Holt (Brittany Murphy) has dreamed of making a name for herself in the world of serious television journalism, just like her idol, Diane Sawyer. In the meantime, Stacy must endure an associate producer’s gig on a bottom-feeding daytime talkshow. Host Kippie Kann (Kathy Bates) is on her way out, and the typical topic is something on the order of, “Grandma’s a hooker, so handle it.”

Stacy’s admiration for Sawyer is rivaled only by her fondness for the music of Carly Simon. These two paths converged in “Working Girl,” the 1988 pic directed by Sawyer’s husband, Mike Nichols, for which Simon composed original songs. A poster of the film prominently adorns Stacy’s office cubicle.

As “Little Black Book” opens, Stacy is in a relationship with Derek (Ron Livingston), a recruiter for the New Jersey Devils hockey team and a seemingly decent guy, about whom she knows little. When Derek heads out of town on business, Stacy can’t resist snooping through his Palm Pilot (mankind’s modern-day equivalent of the pic’s eponymous object), which Derek conveniently has left behind.

She discovers pictures and phone numbers of a slew of glamorous ex-girlfriends, and it appears Derek is still in regular contact with several of them.

Advised by her sassy, conniving colleague Barb (Holly Hunter) to “look under the hood before you purchase the car,” Stacy decides to research Derek by interviewing three of his former flames — a supermodel (Josie Maran), a celebrity gynecologist (Rashida Jones) and an up-and-coming chef (Julianne Nicholson) — under the pretense that they’re being considered as guests for Kippie’s show.

Just watching “Little Black Book” wind its way through this setup is exhausting — pic has been maddeningly overplotted by scripters Melissa Carter and Elisa Bell.

Storyline concerning average-looking Derek as a sort of latter-day Casanova, and Stacy’s revenge scheme is repeatedly dropped to focus on her efforts to advance herself in the workplace.

And what a workplace it is! Like “Broadcast News,” “Little Black Book” wants to suggest the seat-of-your-pants, carnival-like atmosphere of a live TV program, but every note it strikes is false (even though pic’s director, Nick Hurran, is himself a TV vet).

When the movie attempts to show us how crazy TV is — as when Bates, in what must rank as one of the most shameful moments ever suffered by an Oscar winner, gets knocked over a coffee table by an overexcited midget — it feels like the filmmakers haven’t watched TV since “Donahue.” And when the pic builds to its rabble-rousing climax, in which we’re supposed to be morally outraged by the extent to which Kippie’s staff will go to get the story, Hunter’s presence serves only to underline how much more effectively this was portrayed by James L. Brooks two decades ago.

There is only one moment of pure, unadulterated joy in “Little Black Book”: Murphy and Hunter spontaneously breaking into song to “Let the River Run,” Simon’s rousing, Oscar-winning anthem from the “Working Girl” soundtrack. The rest of the time, the capable Murphy bats her big, droopy eyes into a downright furor trying, unsuccessfully, to unite the film’s disparate threads.

While his character reps the pic’s chief antagonist, Livingston disappears for most of the movie, popping up again in time for the finale. Only Hunter’s part has any real meat on its bones; starting out as a comical sidekick, she deepens the role into something more complex.

Tech package is uninspired, with pic’s design elements doing little to disguise the fact that though set in New York and New Jersey, pic was in fact shot on location in and around Los Angeles.

Little Black Book

Production

A Sony Pictures Entertainment release of a Revolution Studios presentation of a Blue Star Pictures production. Produced by Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas, Deborah Schindler, William Sherak, Jason Shuman. Executive producers, Herbert W. Gains, Rachael Horowitz, Warren Zide, Craig Perry. Directed by Nick Hurran. Screenplay, Melissa Carter, Elisa Bell; story, Carter.

Crew

Camera (Deluxe color, widescreen), Theo van de Sande; editor, John Richards; music, Christophe Beck; music supervisor, Randall Poster; production designer, Bob Ziembicki; art director, Peter Andrus; set decorator, Robert Kensinger; costume designer, Susie DeSanto; sound (DTS/SDDS/Dolby Digital), David Macmillan; supervising sound editor, Nick Wilhoit; associate producer, Lauren Kisilevsky; assistant director, Vincent G. Lascoumes; casting, Nancy Nayor. Reviewed at Sony Pictures Studios, Culver City, July 30, 2004. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 106 MIN.

With

Stacy - Brittany Murphy Barb - Holly Hunter Kippie Kann - Kathy Bates Derek - Ron Livingston Joyce - Julianne Nicholson Carl - Stephen Tobolowsky Ira - Kevin Sussman Dr. Rachel Keyes - Rashida Jones Lulu Fritz - Josie Maran Larry - Jason Antoon Mom - Sharon Lawrence
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