Ellie Parker

Opens Fri., Nov. 11, at Varsity.

Naomi Watts made her breakthrough in David Lynch's Mulholland Drive, playing a fresh-off-the-bus wanna-be in Hollywood, whom we have no reason to believe can actually act. Then, in her first big audition, her blond Canadian innocence becomes so much kindling for a scorching seduction scene that had those of us in the audience removing our sweaters. Ellie Parker, something of a vanity project for Watts, is the flip side of that story; about an actress who never quite pulls off that transformation, who never gets her big break, though it ends somewhat more affirmatively than Lynch's dark vision.

Ellie Parker grew from a 2001 short written and directed by Scott Coffey. (He reprises those roles here, and also plays a small part—the kind of guy who, distracted by his cell phone, hits Ellie's car, then gets out and says, "Hey, I just hit this car," and continues talking.) Ellie uses her battered Honda (actually Watts' own) as a changing room: She's a Southern belle on I-5, a New York street hussy on the Ventura Freeway. Her problem—hold your breath—is that "I don't know who I am." However likable Watts may be, this is hardly a novel crisis that anyone in any profession doesn't experience daily.

The very low-budget video and sound quality may have you salting your popcorn with Ibuprofen. Ellie's episodic existence—loutish boyfriend, supportive gal-pal, ridiculous acting class, and sympathetic agent (a nicely weathered and humbled Chevy Chase)—would work better as the DVD extras to a much better movie than Ellie Parker. Not that we should worry about Watts: King Kong opens next month, and she can probably keep making Ringu sequels for the next decade. Ellie, on the other hand, will be driving around to auditions for eternity. (NR)

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