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Throughout his impressive career, writer-director Alan Rudolph has re-imagined the world with a movie lover's idealism, transforming everyday settings into the dreamy languor of classic Hollywood noirs, with flaky characters spouting wonderfully offbeat, perfumed dialogue. Made in the same romanticized spirit as his best work—particularly Choose Me, Trouble In Mind, and Afterglow—Rudolph's latest, Trixie, shows how precarious a line he's been treading all these years. Like his mentor, Robert Altman (who has produced five of his films, including this one), Rudolph has always held true to his particular vision, and as a result, he tends not to fail halfway. As with last year's now-legendary debacle Breakfast Of Champions, the disastrously misconceived Trixie finds the director jumping right off the cliff. Touted as a "screwball noir," the story is a typical Rudolph contraption, full of moody atmosphere and featherweight intrigue, and populated by assorted oddballs and lonelyhearts. Where it goes dreadfully wrong is in its high-concept title character, a gum-smacking Chicago rent-a-cop whose speech is riddled with malapropisms: "You can't just sit there like a sore thumb." "He smokes like a fish." "Do you have an ace up my hole?" It would be a thankless role for any actress, but the gifted Emily Watson affects a sing-songy voice and an unidentifiable accent that only further tortures Rudolph's excruciating lingual tics. A sweet, ironic answer to the usual hardboiled detective type, Watson is assigned to nab pickpockets at a small-time lakefront casino, but she stumbles upon a much larger case. When a mysterious ladies' man (Dermot Mulroney) invites her on a yacht owned by his crooked boss (Will Patton), she's privy to a blackmail scheme involving a pill-popping lounge singer (Lesley Ann Warren) and a powerful state senator (Nick Nolte, in an edgily funny turn). Trixie makes a few cogent points about sex, corruption, and political conspiracy, but they're buried in a convoluted plot and eye-rolling wordplay. Hamstrung by such a silly conceit, Rudolph can do very little. As Trixie herself would put it, "His limits are limitless."