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To Tell the Truth

A word on Don't Say a Word; a cheap shot at Glitter.

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In Don't Say a Word, Michael Douglas stars as Nathan Conrad, an average-enough man and talented psychiatrist who has given up the grimy, chipped-tile walls of the city mental hospital for a more prosperous wood-paneled practice, shifting from slobbering patients doped up on anti-psychotic drugs to slobbering prep-school teens with panty fetishes. "It's okay to whack off," he assures a member of his new clientele.

Conrad has the mien of a man who's earned it: the beautiful wife Aggie (Famke Janssen), who wears a cast on her leg denoting the privilege of a ski weekend, the precocious 8-year-old daughter Jessie (Skye McCole Bartusiak), who can spout off psychiatric terms and earn a wealth of kisses and hugs, and, of course, the fabulous New York apartment to match. And Conrad has the affectation of announcing himself everywhere he goes. "This is Dr. Nathan Conrad," he says, over and over, at the hospital, wherever. Even arriving home, he turns to this branding, taking care that those around him know exactly who he is.

And now it's time for Conrad to be taken down a notch.

Don't Say a Word was directed by Gary Fleder (Kiss the Girls) and based on the novel by Andrew Klavan. Its lead in box-office receipts on its opening weekend has some entertainment writers concluding that Americans aren't ready for comedies, such as Zoolander, the male-model farce starring Ben Stiller, which opened the same day. But maybe those same citizens are heeding President Bush's suggestion to get back to normal. Don't Say a Word is nothing if not normal -- a decent-enough film with its share of lapses.

The film begins with a full-speed-ahead jewel heist. The team of thieves consists of a jive-talker, a muscled thug, a couple of workaday crooks, and their particularly cruel British leader, Koster (Sean Bean). The job goes smoothly, well within its set time constraints, but somewhere along the way, the object of Koster's desire -- a cheap-looking red diamond -- is pocketed by one of his men. Koster discovers the betrayal mid-getaway and insists on returning to the site of his own destruction; flames rage as he stares through them, his eyes equal to the fire's fury.

Flash forward 10 years. Conrad is face-to-face with one of his oversexed teen patients. It's Thanksgiving Eve, and his wife has demanded he bring home a turkey. He promises, but on the way home he has to stop by his old stomping grounds, the city mental hospital, to look in on a troubled young woman named Elisabeth (Brittany Murphy), whom he will treat pro bono.

Elisabeth is a 10-year vet of the mental-health system with matted, dirty hair, a way with a razor blade, and a repetitive rotary-dialing motion of her right hand. Elisabeth also has a six-digit number locked securely in her head -- a number those decade-ago jewel thieves, now resurfaced, want. They kidnap Conrad's daughter, whom they'll return only when he retrieves that number from Elisabeth. But Conrad has less than 24 hours.

Thrown in is detective Sandra Cassidy (Jennifer Esposito), a cop who gets things done and has a knack for arriving on the scene just as the subject of her investigation disappears around the corner. This character is not completely superficial, just a little forced, like a number of elements in the film, such as the ESP-ish way the jewel thieves know about Elisabeth and Conrad's too-smart 8-year-old and and the way the oldish Conrad can be as bad as a prison-hardened tough guy. But these days, in most movies, that's just back to normal. -- Susan Ellis

Here's a cheap shot: Mariah Carey is probably not the only person who's going to have a breakdown after Glitter. I'm expecting other people will too -- like the producers, the director, or anyone who actually pays for a ticket. Here's another: If Mariah is jealous of J. Lo, she has good reason to be. J. Lo can actually act.

Glitter is a Norma-Jean-Baker-turns-into-Marilyn-Monroe-type story of a little girl who is abandoned by her mother and dreams that superstardom will prove she was worth keeping. Except that Billie Frank (Carey) wants to be a singer, is racially "mixed," and falls in love with her producer.

As a singer on a stage, singing, Mariah is believable. The girl has mad-ass pipes. As an actress, well, she fares only slightly worse than Madonna. Post-Tommy Mattola, Mariah seems scared of making herself look bad, even "in character." The irony is that she goes to such lengths to make Billie look good that she comes off looking ridiculous every second of the movie. She simpers and smiles, and even her eyebrows never have less than a perfect moment (absolutely horrifying).

It is entirely possible that our main character could have easily been replaced by a smiling cardboard cut-out. Mariah could have come in a couple of times a week to sing the songs, bat her eyelashes sporadically for the closeups, and deliver deadpan lines like, "I know you're a fly deejay and everything ... " The end result would have been virtually the same. Except that it might have prevented the breakdown.

Sadly, what she lacks in talent, the girl does not make up for in style. Her look is supposed to be that of a "street urchin, sexy, slutty thing," which in essence (or as far as I could tell) means that she never, ever wore a bra. And then she has a swipe of "glitter" that alternately adorns her arm, clavicle, and back. It is never explained; it just appears, like a magical birthmark calling Mariah/Billie to greatness.

If this sounds harsh, it's because it is. And because the only saving grace of the movie just happens to be the cheap shot. You can call it Mariah's well-lit tribute to herself or you can call it only slightly more gripping than a Dentyne Ice commercial (same special effects), just make sure you have an intelligent, bitchy friend sitting next to you. It'll be really, really funny. -- Mary Cashiola

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