"Phat Girlz" is a thin comedy about a plus-size heroine who finds true love when she charms a courtly hunk fond of overweight ladies. Pic isn't likely to advance budding film career of top-billed Mo'Nique, a vet standup and sitcom performer whose sassy, brassy shtick isn't nearly enough to support material this insubstantial.

“Phat Girlz” is a thin comedy about a plus-size heroine who finds true love when she charms a courtly hunk fond of overweight ladies. Equal parts low-mileage star vehicle and heavy-handed fantasy fulfillment, pic isn’t likely to advance budding film career of top-billed Mo’Nique, a vet standup and sitcom performer whose sassy, brassy shtick isn’t nearly enough to support material this insubstantial. Judging from slim $3.1 million opening weekend gross, ticket buyers aren’t biting. Homevid biz may be a bit meatier.

While underemployed as a sales clerk at a snooty L.A. department store, Jazmin Biltmore (Mo’Nique) dreams of creating fashionable attire for herself and other hefty ladies. (Don’t call her fat: “I’m sexy-succulent!” she insists.) But her self-esteem is so low, and her condescending boss (Jack Noseworthy) so obstructive, that she’s not able to show her design sketches to a powerful store exec (a smooth and sympathetic Eric Roberts).

Life isn’t much easier for Jazmin after work. When not wasting time and money on trendy diet plans, she’s chomping down cheeseburgers to deaden the pain of living in a world filled with skinny bimbos and insensitive men. When pressed too hard, she snaps back with trash talk. (Pity the poor fast-food counterman who makes a rude remark about her size.) Throughout much of the day, however, she’s mostly mopey.

Vacationing at a Palm Springs resort with Stacey (Kendra C. Johnson), her slightly less full-figured buddy, and Mia (Joyful Drake), her sexy-svelte cousin, she meets Tunde (Jimmy Jean-Louis), a visiting Nigerian doctor who’s sweet, sensitive and attentive. Better still, he’s cut like a sculpture and looks hot in a skimpy swimsuit. (It’s more than a little ironic that, in a pic designed to celebrate “phat girlz,” almost all of the men on view are buff studs.)

“Phat Girlz” takes what feels like a very long time to develop the romance between Jazmin and Tunde, quite possibly because writer-director Nnegest Likke has nothing else in her scenario to sustain audience interest. Pic feels torturously padded at an overlong 98 minutes.

During a contrived (and, rest assured, temporary) separation of the lovers, Jazmin goes through an emotional breakdown that somehow leaves her feeling more accepting of herself. This gives Mo’Nique a welcome opportunity to show she can register emotions other than surly, sarcastic or smitten. But the scene itself, like so many others in pic, simply goes on too long to steadily diminishing effect.

Unattractive lensing and harsh lighting don’t help.

Phat Girlz

Production

A 20th Century Fox release of a Fox Searchlight Pictures presentation of an Outlaw Prods. and Sneak Preview Entertainment production in association with 10 Times Greater Prods. Produced by Bobby Newmyer, Steven J. Wolfe. Executive producers, Steven Imes, Mo'Nique. Directed, written by Nnegest Likke.

Crew

Camera (Deluxe color), Dean Lent, John Njaga Demps; editor, Zack Arnold; music, Stephen Endelman; production designers, Warren Alan Young, Natasha Baumgardner; art director, Peggy Wang; sound (Dolby Digital), Monroe Cummings, Scott Stolz; assistant directors, Jay Gira, Todd Guzze. Reviewed at AMC Studio 30, Houston, April 8, 2006. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 98 MIN.

With

Jazmin Biltmore - Mo'Nique Tunde - Jimmy Jean-Louis Akibo - Godfrey Stacey - Kendra C. Johnson Mia - Joyful Drake Dick Eckhard - Jack Noseworthy Robert Myer - Eric Roberts

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