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Zellweger, cast shine in fantasy-centered comedy 'Nurse Betty'

Oct. 5, 2000

By NAT NEALEIGH

Reporter

'It's people with no lives watching people with fake ones.'

That pretty much described me sitting in the movie theater the other night, notebook in one hand, pen in the other, preparing to write this review of Nurse Betty. But it's also the way Betty's deadbeat husband feels about people addicted to soap operas.

Nurse Betty centers around soap-fan Betty Sizemore (Renee Zellweger), a Kansas City waitress who dreams of becoming a nurse and never misses her hospital-themed soap, A Reason to Live. Married to an insensitive used car salesman, Del (Aaron Eckhart), Betty is stuck in a small-town rut, just trying to get something -- anything -- out of her life.

Then, one night, everything changes for Betty. While watching a taped soap opera, she's interrupted by a noise and quietly witnesses her husband being tortured and murdered in her dining room. Immediately hit hard with post-traumatic shock, Betty escapes into her soap opera fantasy and begins a search for A Reason to Live's Dr. David Ravell (Greg Kinnear). Convinced that the show is real and that Dr. Ravell is her long-lost fiancé, she travels to L.A. to 'reunite' with him.

Meanwhile, Charlie and Wesley (Morgan Freeman, Chris Rock), the men who murdered her husband, realize that Betty is a witness and begin their own cross-country pursuit to find her. Along the way, Charlie, an aging hit man planning his retirement, becomes delusional as well by becoming obsessed with the woman he is tracking.

If you're a fan of dry comedy, then Nurse Betty is for you. It's subtle enough to please everybody who walked out of the Wayans brother's over-the-top Scary Movie (or wanted to), and though the humor is definitely dark, it won't leave you feeling creepy like Very Bad Things.

By far, the best part about this movie is the cast -- each character is developed enough to pull off a slightly complicated emotional plot. Zellweger has never played a better deluded-romantic type (nope, not even in Jerry Maguire).

Kinnear's eye-crinkling sincerity, Freeman's resigned sensitivity and Eckhart's pasty sleaze created a picture so natural that the girl next to me in the theater was giddy with embarrassment for Betty.

Allison Janey (the tall, big-eyed woman from Drop Dead Gorgeous and American Beauty) as the alert soap opera producer took a minor role and made every glance hilarious, a perfect contrast to Kinnear's self-absorbed soap star.

Chris Rock was annoying in that Chris Rock-ish way we all seem to like.

The story is just as fun and surprisingly believable. Though there's enough gore to think about leaving the kids at home, it's almost always justified. (We have to believe that she's traumatized.) Bloodshed with a purpose, you might say.

From the very beginning, the story is interesting as we watch Betty's suburban obsession, and it only gets better as the movie continues. Subtle plot twists right up until the end keep things constantly unpredictable.

If the action ever does slow down, the movie offers enough to keep your attention until it speeds up again. Be on the watch for exaggerated product placement every now and then (Compaq shelled out the cash), so vulnerable moviegoers should keep their defenses up.

For the conspiracists in the audience, note how Greg Kinnear's hilltop Los Angeles bungalow in Nurse Betty looks suspiciously like Tim Allen's hilltop Los Angeles bungalow in Galaxy Quest. It makes one wonder.

Overall, however, Nurse Betty is well worth the cost of a ticket. It's a dark, slightly bloody, romantic comedy about delusion that is always funny and sometimes even touching in a ridiculous sort of way.