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Screwball noir:'Trixie' is cute through and through

Friday, September 15, 2000

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Movie Critic

Life is no bed of gravy for Trixie Zurbo (Emily Watson), a security guard at a low-rent casino, who stumbles upon a murder case but whose pathological verbal eccentricities get in the way of its solution.


RATING: R for language and sex themes

STARRING: Emily Watson, Nick Nolte, Dermot Mulroney, Nathan Lane, Lesley Ann Warren

DIRECTOR: Alan Rudolph


CRITIC'S CALL: 3 stars


It's "screwball noir" from director Alan Rudolph ("Afterglow," "Choose Me"), a pioneer of American independent filmmaking ever since his early days as assistant director for Robert Altman on such legendary pictures as "The Long Goodbye," "California Split" and "Nashville."

Trixie is struggling to succeed at something -- ANYTHING -- but just doesn't quite connect with what the rest of us consider the real world. Her run-ins -- and the murder suspects -- include a corny lounge-act comedian (Nathan Lane), a hunky womanizer (Dermot Mulroney) and a corrupt politician (Nick Nolte) -- none of whom make any more sense than she does.

"The Sword of Damocles is hanging over Pandora's Box," she observes, during her climactic encounter with the Nixonian Senator Avery (Nolte, looking scarily like Charlton Heston). It's the film's finest, funniest scene -- two people at a restaurant table, profoundly miscommunicating from beginning to end, with Nolte revealing that "As a child, my father took me to a circus -- and a clown killed him."

Trixie? Her sister is pregnant, "but I'm not sure if I'm gonna be an aunt or an uncle yet."

The real murder here is of the English language.

The bottom line is that "Trixie" is quite cute -- too cute at times. If only EVERY line weren't a malaprop. But never mind: Emily Watson's performance is delicious. She proves herself a wonderful comedienne on top of recent proof of her superb abilities as a dramatic actress in "Angela's Ashes" and "Cradle Will Rock."

Actors and acting are foremost with Rudolph as with his mentor, Altman, and he lets them run with their parts.

"Hey -- nobody's human," Trixie concludes.

She's right on. And so is this delightfully insane film.

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