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'Uptown' Blues 

Brittany Murphy's latest film crashes and burns.

Just when it seemed that Gigli had a lock on the majority pick for the summer's worst movie, along comes Uptown Girls.

The film takes a simple premise (spoiled rich woman loses her money and takes a nanny job) and foolishly attempts to achieve a meaningful character study. It's a depressing, schizoid mess.

Offbeat actress Brittany Murphy (Spun) stars as Molly Gunn, daughter of deceased rock god, Tommy Gunn (trivia note: also the name of Sly Stallone's foul-tempered protégé in Rocky V). When her accountant and caretaker steal the family fortune, Molly is forced to jettison her childlike ways and go the vocational route as a nanny. Enter Ray (played by young Dakota Fanning, survivor of I Am Sam), another spoiled rich kid with a tuned-out mother (Heather Locklear) and a comatose dad hooked to a respirator in her library.

Ray is tragically uptight, and Molly sets out to mentor the child into a sunnier disposition through freestyle dancing instead of rigid ballet, and through rock music instead of that tight-assed Mozart shit. As the relationship between the two forms, one can't help but wish some conscientious adult would enter into the picture and whisk the little girl away to a nice day at the museum, far away from the nutty rock-and-roll lady. Ray does her best to resist Molly's moronic ways, but the rules of bubble-headed comedy will eventually do her in, and she will accept Molly's pathetic teachings, thus jeopardizing her entire future.

Boaz Yakin seems unaware that he's supposed to be directing a shallow comedy, so he makes uneven attempts at deep psychological drama. Molly and Ray have daddy issues, with Ray being a germaphobe and Molly attempting suicide off a park bridge, a gigantically discordant moment that is played for laughs. All of their psychological maladies will come to a head during a cathartic teacup ride at Coney Island, something often cited as an effective remedy for lifelong repressive behavior by reputable doctors everywhere.

This is Murphy's attempt to become a breakout star a la Reese Witherspoon, offering a good argument for her sticking to supporting roles in weird movies. Her quirks seem out of place in a vapid film more suitable for Bullocks and Ryans. The filmmakers actually saddle her with a cute, unique movie pet in the mold of Witherspoon's funky Chihuahua from the Legally Blonde films: Molly has a shot-stealing pig running around her apartment, and the little runt is just adorable. Makes one wish the movie were called Ode to a Pig: A Film That Doesn't Include Brittany Murphy.

If Dakota Fanning actually has talent, it hasn't really blossomed as of yet, and Yakin would've done better to reel her in a bit. Fanning's intensity factor goes over the top at times, inspiring intense discomfort as opposed to the intended laughter. As for now, Fanning just surpassed the quickly growing Haley Joel Osment for scariest child star. She's just a little creepy.

For a love interest, there's Jesse Spencer as an aspiring rock star whose music is too bad to be believed. I was going to use this space to rank on his outrageously fake Australian accent, but research has revealed that the accent is authentic. The moment where he first plays his hit single for Molly (a syrupy ballad about cotton sheets) is my pick for this summer's worst audio moment in a film.

By the time Fanning does a semisweet dance in the film's finale, the confused Uptown Girls is long past saving. Somebody should've told Yakin to lighten up, because his supposedly lighthearted summer fare is a real downer.

Uptown Girls
Rated NR

More by Bob Grimm

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