Spike Lee's latest film, "Girl 6," is an attempt to back away from his heavier movies and try for a light-and-breezy trifle, exploring one woman's voyage of discovery through a phone-sex job she takes out of desperation.
But as scripted by playwright Suzan-Lori Parks, and as directed by Lee with his usual heavy hand, the main character is never well-defined, the drama often seems half-hearted and the comedy repeatedly falls flat.
In fact, I'm not sure "Girl 6" really is a comedy, despite the ad campaign, since so much of it borders on tragedy.
Theresa Randle, who has previously been a shining light in supporting roles ("Bad Boys," "Beverly Hills Cop III," Lee's "Jungle Fever" and "Malcolm X") tries hard with her underwritten character, and her natural warmth adds a lot.
"Girl 6" is her phone-sex name - when she's not using such pseudonyms as "Lovely Brown" or "April the Dominatrix."
In the opening scene, we learn that Randle is an aspiring New York actress, as she auditions for a sleazy hyperactive movie director (Quentin Tarantino, who else?). He surprises her by telling her to remove her blouse, which she reluctantly does - but then she decides it's not in her best interest, so she storms out. (Did it ever occur to Lee that by showing Randle topless he's exploiting her in the same way Tarantino is exploiting the film's character?)
When her equally hyperactive agent (a very hairy John Turturro) gets a call from "Q.T.," he lets Randle go. So, it's back to work at go-nowhere multiple jobs - passing out leaflets on Manhattan streets, working the counter at a strip joint and taking thankless movie-extra jobs.
Eventually, she spots a classified ad for employment as a phone-sex operator, which promises big money. But once she gets on board, Randle proves to be too good at the job.
Reveling in the power-trip that comes with fulfilling male sexual fantasies, she becomes obsessed and begins working double shifts, taking her regular customers more and more seriously and, in the final reels, even makes a date with one of them.
As a result, the line between fantasy and reality gets a bit tenuous as Randle's behavior becomes erratic.
"Girl 6" has its moments, and there are amusing, wink-at-the-audience fantasy sequences that re-create "The Jeffersons" (with Lee as George), "Foxy Brown" and "Carmen Jones."
But the steady stream of sexually explicit language just isn't funny.
Randle is good, as is the supporting cast - including Lee, as her neighbor, a goofy baseball-card nut who plans to hang on to his collection for another 20 years and then get rich, and Isaiah Washington, who has a few poignant moments as Randle's wayward ex-husband.
And Lee has peppered the supporting cast with a number of spot-the-star cameos. In addition to Turturro and Tarantino, there's Madonna as the owner of another phone-sex outfit (and she's pretty awful), Ron Silver as a casting director, Peter Berg and Richard Belzer as callers and Naomi Campbell as one of Randle's co-workers. Halle Berry also shows up, playing herself in a TV news story.
In the end, however, the film is too long to support its flimsy premise and there is no particular insight into human behavior. And if it is a comedy, it needed a full-blown humor injection.
"Girl 6" is rated R for constant profanity and vulgarity, as well as some nudity and marijuana smoking.