Movie review: Dreadfully unfunny Shopaholic

Much is being made of the bad timing in releasing a movie like Confessions of a Shopaholic - a comedy about a woman with a shopping addiction being pursued by a collection agency for her thousands in credit-card debt - at this particular moment in our economic history.

As if there's ever a good time to release a laugh-resistant, brain-dead comedy.

Because, honestly: If this movie was actually funny - instead of a stinker from the word 'go' - wouldn't critics be singing its praises for daring to fly in the face of conventional wisdom and/or good taste?

That's a moot point. Shopaholic, drawn from the novels by Sophie Kinsella, is DOA, not even amusing enough to make the cut as a Lifetime movie. It's hard to know where to point the finger of blame because there's so much to be assigned. Let's just say that were it not for the bad script and dull-witted direction, we'd still have to contend with Isla Fisher's inept slapstick performance.

Fisher plays Rebecca Bloomwood, a would-be fashion writer stuck working at a home-and-garden magazine - until it goes belly up. She's always dreamed of writing for Alette, a high-fashion mag edited by snooty French boss Alette Naylor (Kristin Scott Thomas) - but when she applies for an opening there, she find it's already been taken by the robotically evil Alicia (Leslie Bibb).

So Rebecca applies instead for a slot at Alette's sister magazine, which is devoted to personal finance - and lands it. Here's the kicky, wacky twist: Rebecca is up to her eyeballs in credit-card debt because she never saw a designer-label item she could resist buying, no matter how small her income. She's the clichéd character who rummages through a jam-packed closet and moans, "I don't have a thing to wear."

Even as she establishes herself as the magazine's popular common-sense columnist, Rebecca is on the run from a persistent bill collector, who she dodges with nonsensical excuses. She's climbing the corporate ladder as a writer whose work is a magnet for media attention - even as her personal finances go down the toilet. She even tries Shopaholics Anonymous - but leaves early to go shopping.

Laugh? I thought I'd die.

The script is by a trio of writers, who can't manage a trio of laughs. Verbal wit? Forget it; most of the humor comes from waves of mistaken impressions and wrongly drawn conclusions that Rebecca is meant to ride like a surfer. But the surf definitely isn't up.

Meanwhile, director P.J. Hogan apparently has directed Fisher to pretend she's Lucille Ball, flinging herself about with clumsy physicality that evokes pity, rather than laughter. Even so, a physical comedian - of the caliber of, say, Tea Leoni - might have made something of the role, other than the hash that Fisher manages.

Speaking of pity, save some for Hugh Dancy as Rebecca's boss, a rich kid trying to carve out his own place in life, who winds up falling for his frivolous new employee. Dancy seems like a stand-up guy, one who could easily play straight-man and foil to a skilled comedic partner. Unfortunately, he doesn't have one here.

Other talented actors are wasted in underwritten or overripe roles, including Scott Thomas as the snooty fashion maven, Joan Cusack and John Goodman (as Rebecca's frugal parents), and Fred Armisen, as Dancy's brown-nosing boss. Director Hogan apparently thought Krysten Ritter, who plays Rebecca's roommate/best friend, had a comic flair - but then he obviously thought that about Fisher. Wrong on both counts.

Confessions of a Shopaholic blows. The problem is not the timing of its release; it's the movie's comic timing - and its complete lack thereof - that's the killer.

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