Even the endlessly talented and infinitely adorable Isla Fisher cannot overcome the script problems in this unfrothy romantic comedy about a writer who just can’t stop shopping. As hard as they try to make her irresistable, the character she plays is careless, thoughtless, and untrustworthy. And yet, everyone in the movie seems to be utterly won over by her, making the disconnect between the reactions of the audience and the reactions of the characters more and more jarring.
Fisher plays Rebecca, who was forever blighted by her parents’ penny-pinching. She wanted sparkly and colorful but her mother always bought brown and sensible. So she has grown up into a woman who cannot resist that most magical of siren’s refrains: “SALE.” They are not kidding about the “aholic” part of the title. Like any addict, she is in denial about the way in which her addiction has affected her life and the lives of those around her. She mooches off of her best friend and roommate (a delightful Krysten Ritter as Suze) and constantly lies to everyone, including herself. She goes to great lengths to avoid those nasty people who keep calling her because, oh yes, she does not pay her bills. It is supposed to be charming and funny that racing to the interview for what she says is the job of her dreams she is waylaid by a $120 green scarf, which she pays for with a combination of cash, several credit cards, and what amounts to attempted check-kiting that turns into a straight-on con, based on a gabbled story about a sick aunt. And who turns out to be on the other side of the desk in the interview? Yes, the con-ee himself, the handsome editor (Hugh Dancy in another Prince Charming role as Luke). An all-star supporting cast includes Kristen Scott Thomas as an imperious fashion editor and Julie Hagarty channeling Miss Jane from “The Beverly Hillbillies” as Luke’s assistant.
It is always a mistake for a movie to be more in love with its heroine than the audience is. A little romantic fantasy is welcome but here it reaches absurd levels as the most selfish and irresponsible behavior by Rebbecca produces coos of ecstasy from everyone. She instantly becomes an international sensation with a frivolous article using shoes as a metaphor for personal finance. And preposterously, when she finally begins to accept some responsibility for the mess she has made, the movie wants us to be on her side when she undercuts her inexcusably overdue payment with a silly prank. Fisher should have shopped around for a better script.
I have seen taxidermy livelier than this moribund mess which further sullies the reputation of the original series of films starring Peter Sellers as well as those of everyone associated with this unwelcome sequel to the awful 2006 Pink Panther.
Steve Martin returns as Jacques Clouseau, the bumbling (except when he isn’t) gendarme whose physical and social clumsiness somehow always end up saving the day. This time, a super-thief who leaves a calling card saying simply “The Tornado” has stolen precious artifacts that are central to the pride and identity of European countries. French Chief Inspector Dreyfus (John Cleese, with an English accent) is directed to put together a “dream team” of top international sleuths, and despite his best judgment (and jealousy) of Clouseau, he is added to the team. The team includes a snobby (surprise!) Brit (Alfred Molina), a very romantic (surprise!) Italian (Andy Garcia), a Japanese expert in (surprise!) technology (Yuki Matsuzaki). The author of a book on the Tornado turns up to offer her expertise (the always-exquisitely lovely Aishwarya Rai Bachchan). They bicker and pratfall in various beautiful locations, most notably (but not even a little bit interestingly) at the home of The Tornado’s notorious art dealer, played by the top “What is he doing in this mess” award-winner, Jeremy Irons. Second place goes to Lily Tomlin, who once appeared with Martin in the delightful All of Me) but now has to make do as an instructor in culturally sensitive behavior who gets to throw in a “tut-tut” here and there.
The movie is spiritless in concept and limp in execution. It almost feels static as scenes — and attempted gags — are all but stationary. A restaurant burns down twice. Not funny either time. A man tells us — twice — that if something happens he will wear a tutu. It does and he does. But it isn’t funny. Clouseau is very dim or very clever, very sincere or very offensive. Not funny either way. A man shampoos another man’s hair and they discuss the fact that jojoba is pronounced “ho-ho-ba.” Funny? Don’t think so. It is supposed to be funny that Clouseau makes insensitive comments but the movie itself is insensitive on gender and ethnicity — not to make a point and not with any wit, just because it is careless and clumsy. More unforgivably, it is just dull.
“Shopaholic” comes to DVD this week. Here is a glimpse behind the scenes:
• The film shot inside of some of the most exclusive stores and boutiques in New York, including Barneys New York flagship store on Madison Avenue, Henri Bendel on Fifth Avenue, Scoop and Catherine Malandrino in the Meat Packing District, Alessi (upscale housewares) in Soho, and Kleinfeld (elaborate bridal shop) in Chelsea.
• The film also shot inside some of the most historic buildings in the city, including legendary British architect Lord Norman Foster’s Hearst Tower (the only film to ever be allowed to shoot there) on 57th Street and 8th Avenue; 45 Rockefeller Center (the building that features the statue of Atlas holding up the world at its entrance); the Grand Salon inside of the 1931 Jumeirah Essex House hotel on Central Park South; inside and out of St. James Church (1884) on Madison Avenue between 71st and 72nd Streets; inside of the Beaux Arts and Art Nouveau styled Emigrant Industrial Savings Bank Building (1908-12) on Chambers Street in the Wall Street district; utilizing the exterior of St. Anthony of Padua on Sullivan Street at the intersection of Greenwich Village, Tribeca and Soho, founded in 1866.
• The production spent two all-nighters dressing the beautiful atrium of Henri Bendel with a Midsummer Night’s Dream themed design, as well as the aviator-themed window displays. They also created window displays for the Hearst Tower with faux stores by Valentino, Anna Sui, Catherine Malandrino and Alberto Ferretti. Excited New Yorkers thought that actual stores had opened on the ground level of the Tower and were sorely disappointed to discover that they were only for the movie.
• Across the street from St. James Church, windows were re-dressed in actual Yves St. Laurent, Asprey and Sonia Rykiel stores for the film’s climax.
• In the film, costume designer Patricia Field selected clothing and accessories to adorn Isla Fisher’s Becky Bloomwood, including Balenciaga, Marc Jacobs, Christian Louboutin, Alexander McQueen, Zac Posen, Miu Miu, Salvatore Ferragamo, Prada, Christian Dior, Todd Oldham, Gucci and Matthew Williamson, among others.
• To create a lavish display in Henri Bendel’s six-story atrium, as well as window decorations, production designer Kristi Zea and supervising art director Paul Kelly had to bring in a full complement of their department to pull an all-nighter with military precision, as they only had enough time between the store closing its doors to the public and reopening them again in the morning to pull off the impossible. Mission was accomplished, with legions of New Yorkers admiring the results before the cameras began rolling later that day.
• Filming in New York City gave the filmmakers access to the pool of local actors perhaps better known for their work in the theatre than on film, including Christine Ebersole (Tony Award winner as Best Actress in a Musical for “Grey Gardens”), LaChanze (Tony Award winner as Best Actress in a Musical for “The Color Purple”) and Kaitlin Hopkins (star of the upcoming touring company of “Dirty Dancing: The Musical”).
• Ed Helms of “The Office” is seen only on videotape in the movie as self-help money management guru Garrett E. Barton.
• A bank loan officer is portrayed by Jonathan Tisch, Loews Hotel Chairman and CEO; and in a publishing reception scene filmed in Chicago, another banker is played by Andy Serwer, managing editor of Fortune Magazine.
• Robert Stanton, who plays ruthless debt collector Derek Smeath, drew upon the only other job he ever had besides actor: a skip tracer for a student loan company, finding people who had defaulted on their debts. Stanton admits that he wasn’t good at harassing people, since he would always burst out in laughter instead.
• Sophie Kinsella was on the “Confessions of a Shopaholic” set nearly every day as associate producer, consulting and watching her beloved creation of Rebecca Bloomwood come to life. Not so coincidentally considering the massive international sales of the “Shopaholic” novels, Kinsella was often approached by excited fans on New York, Connecticut and Miami locations as if she were more of a movie star than an author.
In my corporate governance role, I appeared on CNBC today to discuss Steve Jobs and what Apple should disclose about his health.