August 07, 2002 at 04:00 AM EDT

The Good Girl is a false drama anchored by two big lies. One is that working in an average, everywhere-in-America discount mart inevitably kills the soul, and anyone with more intelligence and self-regard than a cow would do well to get the hell out from behind the cash register. The other is that Jennifer Aniston bravely liberates herself from her glamorous ”Friends” shackles by playing Justine Last, a frumpy and disgruntled Retail Rodeo employee in Nowheresville, Tex.

The second lie is easier to swallow. Bored with her marriage to a lunkish, pothead, housepainter husband (John C. Reilly), Justine falls briefly for a sensitive but disturbed younger fellow employee (Jake Gyllenhaal, specialist in Holden Caulfield types), and the likable Aniston walks the part with a carefully practiced shuffle of despair. She speaks with a carefully practiced twang. She allows her famous hair to be carefully disheveled. Fine, sure, I’ll agree to believe that she’s at a Texas dead end, yet still sleeps in expensive lip gloss. (Deborah Rush and Zooey Deschanel enliven the day as piece-of-work cashier colleagues.)

The first lie, though, is troubling, faintly condescending, and of a piece with Miguel Arteta’s previous movie Chuck & Buck (both films were written by Mike White, who in ”Good Girl” plays the store’s idiotic, proselytizing Christian security guard). Both scripts are more interested in devising instances of unorthodox human behavior than in convincing us of their truthfulness. ”I saw in your eyes that you hate the world. I hate it too,” one Retail Rodeo loser tells another, although anyone with the ability to articulate such observations clearly has more resources for success than this movie has use for. ”The Good Girl” only pretends to care about good people who sometimes do bad things. In fact, it hasn’t got time for the pain.

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