There seems to be no middle ground for director P.J. Hogan. When he’s on his game, we get charming comedies like “Muriel’s Wedding” and “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” along with his extraordinary and sadly neglected “Peter Pan.” (Odds are, you didn’t see the latter. Put it on your Netflix queue right now.)
But when he is bad, he is awful, as proven in his wretched, exiled-to-cable action comedy “Unconditional Love” and, now, “Confessions of a Shopaholic,” a misbegotten bauble that’s all zircon.
Watching “Confessions” is akin to enduring a Nickelodeon pilot that attempts to cash in on the success of “The Devil Wears Prada” and the “Sex and the City” movie; audiences for the new film are expected to forget everything they know about the media, shopping, writing, the economy and human behavior in general for the plot to work.
Raised by an endlessly practical, bargain-loving mom (Joan Cusack), our heroine Rebecca (Isla Fisher) is a mercantile magpie, constantly flitting from one new shiny object to the next and putting it on her credit card. While staving off debt collectors, Rebecca dreams of writing for Alette, the Vogue-like magazine named for its stentorian editrix (Kristin Scott Thomas, whose Pepe Le Pew accent must be an elaborate put-on, since we know from “I’ve Loved You So Long” and “Tell No One” that she actually speaks perfect French).
Rebecca arrives for her interview only to find that the Alette gig has been taken, but a helpful gay man (Stephen Guarino of Logo’s “Big Gay Sketch Show”) — because what would a contemporary chick flick be without a helpful gay man? — tells her that if she can get in at another magazine at the same company, she’ll eventually be able to nepotism her way to the fashion gig.
And so the profligate Rebecca winds up at Successful Saving magazine, where she writes a column about sound financial management and somehow becomes a huge success, despite the fact that she knows nothing about money and can only turn everything into a shopping metaphor. And isn’t it hilarious? She’s totally in debt and writing a column about money! And if you missed that point, the movie repeats it over and over again! Because it’s so funny!
While juggling her crippling deficit and her fash-mag dreams, Rebecca finds time to bat her eyes at her editor, Luke (Hugh Dancy, bland as boiled beef), whose Mr. Right credentials are bolstered when she learns he’s secretly the son of a New York society doyenne.
There’s certainly the makings of a fun movie here, but “Confessions of a Shopaholic” is constantly zagging when it should zig. There’s tons of physical comedy, but with the exception of a kooky salsa-dancing scene, none of it works.
Hogan has assembled a top-notch cast here — including Julie Hagerty, John Lithgow, Lynn Redgrave, Wendie Malick, Christine Ebersole and John Goodman — but none of them are able to fireman-carry the film to a place of humor. Fred Armisen fails to get laughs as a corporate toady; one wishes his “SNL” castmate Kristen Wiig had gotten the role, seeing what she did with a similar part in “Knocked Up.”
Poor Isla Fisher — she’s a charming actress who was terrific in “Hot Rod” and “Wedding Crashers,” but you can tell she’s just adrift here, looking ridiculous in Patricia Field’s costumes (not just anyone can make her over-the-top glad rags work) and performing one wince-inducing pratfall after another.
Fisher may have buyer’s remorse for taking on this film. So will anyone who purchases a ticket.