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Ellen takes on ...

Ellen DeGeneres tries her hand at movie comedy and film noir in her first post-Ellen roles

EDtv * Written by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel * Directed by Ron Howard * Starring Matthew McConaughey, Jenna Elfman, Woody Harrelson, and Ellen DeGeneres * Universal

Goodbye Lover * Written by Ron Peer, Joel Cohen, and Alec Sokolow * Directed by Roland Joffe * Starring Patricia Arquette, Dermot Mulroney, Mary-Louise Parker, Don Johnson, and Ellen DeGeneres * Warner Bros.

After enduring the most public coming-out and cancellation in prime-time history, you wouldn't expect to hear Ellen DeGeneres cry, "Yes! Yes! I am the golden goddess of television!" But as a ruthless TV exec in EDtv, the comedian looks through the boob tube from a whole new angle. In fact, DeGeneres has two new films--the other is Roland Joffe's Goodbye Lover--that take aim at the tabloid culture that has adored her and abhorred her, and she nails it with some success.

The better of the two is EDtv, Ron Howard's affectionate The Truman Show-lite media satire about a 31-year-old San Francisco slacker and video store clerk (Matthew McConaughey in an aw-shucks-sexy, audience-pleasing performance) who unwittingly agrees to have his life filmed 24 hours a day by True TV, a reality-programming channel. DeGeneres plays Cynthia Topping, the program director who gets a gut feeling that this flannel-wearing rube is a ratings gold mine. After all, she cynically tells her eager staff, "people can't turn away from an accident."

Cynthia manipulates Ed for her own gain, even psyching him up to dump his nice UPS-worker girlfriend (Jenna Elfman) and have live TV sex with a self-promoting starlet (Elizabeth Hurley) by asking him what his idol, Burt Reynolds, would do in the same situation. Most of DeGeneres's frisky performance consists of her amusing reactions to watching Ed's clueless behavior while she's lounging around in silky pj's, using her rowing machine, even brushing the teeth of her dog. (It's a witty touch that the mutt is named Nielsen.)

True to schmaltzy Hollywood form, Cynthia eventually has a change of heart, and EDtv turns warm and fuzzy. It loses its satirical edge, almost becoming a celebration of the media debauchery it depicts. But for a while, at least, it's cathartic fun watching DeGeneres flip the bird at the prime-time brass.

It's certainly much more fun than the Bronx cheer of a performance DeGeneres delivers in the nasty noir comedy Goodbye Lover. Showing up halfway through the film, she plays Rita Pompano, a hardboiled detective investigating the murder of a prominent Los Angeles PR honcho (believe it or not, Don Johnson) and tracking an array of sexy, sinister suspects.

Like EDtv, the film denies DeGeneres any semblance of a sex life--except for an oddly heated moment with femme fatale Patricia Arquette during an interrogation scene. Done up dowdy in baggy cop-wear, DeGeneres is a smirky, emasculating version of police chief Marge in Fargo. But there's nothing funny or likable about this repressed cop; in fact, she's got an uglier demeanor than the beautiful people she's tracking. Her favorite pastime is browbeating her impressionable rookie partner Rollins (Ray McKinnon). When he gets all sensitive on her, she tells him he's gay and asks him if he wants quiche for lunch.

At least on paper it's easy to see what attracted DeGeneres to the project: the opportunity to play a tough-as-nails gumshoe in a twisty film noir. Too bad the convoluted plot is suspense-free and the satire--including a back-story political scandal involving a Republican senator and a transvestite prostitute--is old news.

The verdict is still out on DeGeneres's post-Ellen movie career, although wry supporting turns are more of a step in the right direction than Mr. Wrong--and that might be just the way she likes it. (She next plays Kate Capshaw's best pal in The Love Letter, due out in May.) In a particularly bittersweet moment in EDtv, DeGeneres wistfully watches some kids jump up and down excitedly in front of a minimart security camera Sure, it's tantalizing to capture the media's eye, she seems to be saying, but at what cost?

Maynard contributes to Details, Cosmopolitan, and ABCNews.com.
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Title Annotation:Ellen DeGeneres' upcoming roles in "EDtv" and "Goodbye Lover"
Author:Maynard, Kevin
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Apr 27, 1999
Words:680
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