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MOVIE REVIEWS : ‘Handbag’ Can’t Carry Film’s Premise

TIMES STAFF WRITER

“The Gun in Betty Lou’s Handbag” (citywide) is too silly and improbable to accomplish anything except to show off lovely Penelope Anne Miller’s considerable range and skill as a comedian. Had there been more work on the script, Miller just might have been able to make the film work.

Miller’s Betty Lou, an assistant librarian in a picturesque Missouri town, is one of life’s human doormats, letting her dogmatic boss (Marian Seldes) and her policeman husband (Eric Thal) walk all over her. When her dog finds a gun alongside a river, she tries to inform her husband of the discovery, but he insists he’s too busy to talk to her. And when that gun proves to be a weapon used to murder a New Orleans gangster, Betty Lou confesses to killing him when she’s unable to get her husband or any of his colleagues to listen to how the gun happened to fall into her hands.

The challenge here is to suggest just how desperate Betty Lou is for basic attention without making her seem stupid. Unfortunately, writer Grace Cary Bickley hasn’t been able to develop her premise well enough to avoid making Betty Lou seem just a pretty dumbbell. Director Allan Moyle, in turn, hasn’t been able to overcome the script’s shortcomings. Who in all of Tettley, Mo., in his or her sound mind, would confess to murder--especially since in this instance the only fingerprints on the murder weapon belong in fact to Betty Lou? But then she’s awfully slow to comprehend just how serious her predicament really is.

Whether in Betty Lou’s original demure guise or her subsequent glamorous transformation, Miller is convincing even when the movie isn’t. Cathy Moriarty, as a hooker who wises up Betty while they’re both in the slammer, and Alfre Woodard as Betty Lou’s inexperienced but scrappy attorney lend sparkle to an otherwise foolish film (rated PG-13 for violence, language).

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‘The Gun in Betty Lou’s Handbag’

Penelope Ann Miller: Betty Lou Perkins

Eric Thal: Alex Perkins

William Forsythe: Billy Beaudeen

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Cathy Moriarty: Reba

Alfre Woodard: Ann

A Buena Vista release of an Interscope Communications production in association with Nomura Babcock & Brown. Director Allan Moyle. Producer Scott Kroopf. Executive producers Ted Field, Robert W. Cort. Screenplay by Grace Cary Bickley. Cinematographer Charles Minsky. Editors Janice Hampton, Erica Huggins. Costumes Lisa Jensen. Music Richard Gibbs. Production design Michael Corenblith. Art director David J. Bomba. Set designer Lori Rowbotham. Set decorator Merideth Boswell Charbonnet. Sound Douglas Axtell. Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes.

MPAA-rated PG-13 (for violence, language).


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