Is there anything more dispiriting than watching a maverick lower his sights? Writer director Neil LaBute brought a scorched earth policy to gender relations in ”In the Company of Men” and ”Your Friends & Neighbors,” but with the warmed over whimsy of Nurse Betty he condescends to characters, audience, genre — you name it.
To be fair, John C. Richards and James Flamberg wrote the script this time out, conflating elements of ”Desperately Seeking Susan” (naive Kansas waitress Renée Zellweger suffers amnesia and tumbles into her own fantasy life), ”Tootsie” (she fakes her way onto the set of her favorite soap), and ”Pulp Fiction” (Morgan Freeman and Chris Rock play hitmen specializing in gutter mouth philosophy).
Why would LaBute, whose previous work has found venom and tragedy flaming away in his characters’ hearts, be attracted to such feel good hokum? No idea, but only Freeman and, to some extent, Zellweger escape from this change up with clean shoes. ”Betty,” in the words of one character, has ”that wholesome Doris Day thing going.” On LaBute, it looks like ”Barton Fink” in a housedress.