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Wrong times for shrill label worshipping

THOUGH the timing on "Confessions of a Shopaholic?couldn't have been worse ?the idea of reveling in wretched excess when untold thousands are losing their homes, their jobs, their minds ?there really is no appropriate moment for a shrill onslaught that perpetuates the worst stereotypes about female materialism.

To be fair, there are a couple of men at the shopaholics anonymous meetings Isla Fisher's character attends, one of whom is played by former NBA star John Salley in one of many baffling choices. We'll get to those later.

First, we must address what an utter waste this is of Fisher's infinite likability. The effervescent redhead, who made a splash in "Wedding Crashers?but proved she could really act, too, in the little-seen noir "The Lookout,?brings a bright energy to the role of compulsive shopper Rebecca Bloomwood but is too often trapped in hackneyed slapstick and cat fights.

There's something a little daffy and dangerous lurking beneath her perky cuteness, which this PG-rated, Jerry Bruckheimer-produced explosion of color and noise never puts to best use.

Instead, Rebecca comes off as a watered-down, latter-day Carrie Bradshaw, complete with a job as a journalist and a wardrobe designed by Patricia Field ?even though the Sophie Kinsella books that inspired the movie, "Confessions of a Shopaholic?(2001) and "Shopaholic Takes Manhattan?(2002), came out right in the "Sex and the City?heyday.

You know, back when it was still safe, if not glamorous, to consume frivolously. Rebecca even crosses a street in Manhattan wearing a pouffy pink dress that immediately calls to mind the tutu Carrie famously wore during the show's opening credits.

Homage or cheap knockoff? You make the call.

The plot ?as if it matters, since "Confessions?is mostly about label worship ?follows Rebecca's futile attempts at reducing her credit card debt of more than US$16,000, even as she hypocritically writes a magazine column about smart shopping.

"A store can awaken a lust for things you never even knew you needed,?she rhapsodizes in frequent voiceover (another Carrie tactic), cooing over the smells and feels of the overpriced goods at Barney's and Bendel's. Clearly, director P.J. Hogan is a long way from the delicate charm of his 1994 debut, "Muriel's Wedding.?

At one rare low point, Rebecca is briefly honest about her shopping addiction: it gives her pleasure but afterward, she sinks into sadness; she must shop again to recapture the feeling.

Then it's back to some frothy discussion about a scarf.

Hugh Dancy co-stars as the dashing British editor with whom she falls in love, which no one seems to think is inappropriate.

John Goodman, Joan Cusack, John Lithgow, Kristin Scott Thomas and Lynn Redgrave are among the talents squandered in meager supporting roles. Redgrave gets maybe one line of dialogue and is credited as "Drunken Lady at Ball.?Seriously.


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