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Clichd 'Trixie' misses bull's tail

'You've got to grab the bull by the tail and look it in the eye!"

That wisdom is spoken by the eccentric heroine of "Trixie," and it applies to movie reviews as well as life in general. So let's do it.

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Looking the new Alan Rudolph comedy in the eye, you see an amusing premise and a talented cast, but also a weakly constructed story and repetitious jokes.

Should audiences give the picture a chance to do its tricks? It isn't without merit, but the safest choice is to ignore it and hope it'll wander quietly away.

The story centers on Trixie, a gambling casino security guard. She meets a klutzy womanizer who tempts her into a date on a crooked businessman's boat. His friends include a state senator and a washed-up nightclub singer who lead our heroine into crime, politics, and show business.

"Trixie" will have extra interest for moviegoers who've followed the ups and downs of Rudolph's erratic filmography, from the promising "Welcome to L.A." and "Remember My Name" to the awful "Endangered Species" and "Equinox."

The new picture ranks with his middling efforts, lifted by the magnetism of Emily Watson and Nick Nolte but weighed down by a "screwball noir" story that allows humor and pathos to cancel each other out.

Rudolph has called "Trixie" his "autobiography," explaining that it's about "someone who doesn't connect with the society around them and who has a different language and different ideas and thoughts." That's an odd way for a commercial filmmaker to describe himself - how can you sell tickets if you don't connect with your society? -but it indicates a laudable ambition to work outside the familiar gaggle of Hollywood conventions.

Similar goals have long motivated Robert Altman, who produced "Trixie" and once served as Rudolph's mentor. While both filmmakers have had their share of flops, Altman has reached greater heights because he's willing to pursue his "difference" to extremes.

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"Trixie" relies too much on the clichs it wants to deconstruct, suggesting that Rudolph needs to take more risks if he's going to sustain a truly distinctive career.

*Rated R; contains sex and violence.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society