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'November' offers cliches instead of chills

Beware serious movies starring former sitcom stars. Beware thrillers about photographers. Bewares movies set in convenience stores.

Greg Harrison's ''November" is guilty on all counts, jamming three cliches of modern independent moviemaking into each other for a perfectly derivative time at the artplex.

Courteney Cox plays Sophie, a Los Angeles photographer who doesn't remember the particulars of a fatal robbery at a little variety store. Maybe the answers are in her pictures. Maybe they're in her head. It's hard to feel for her one way or the other.

One November night, Sophie pulls up to a mini-mart and asks her extremely accommodating mate, Hugh (James LeGros), to fetch her a chocolate treat, which he does. LeGros is his own independent-film cliche, having spent most of his career playing house with more famous actresses. He's the constant boyfriend. Here he suffers the indignity of being gunned down in the opening minutes.

Sophie ends up seeing a shrink (Nora Dunn). She explains that Hugh was killed and that she's been having terrible headaches. But those, she says, started before the murder, when she was cheating on Hugh with another man (Michael Ealy). And the headaches, not any residual guilt, are why she's come to see a doctor.

This single scene implies a character I would have liked to spend some time with -- Sophie is cold, selfish, and barely traumatized, which is an intriguing frame of mind, given her circumstances. But the movie, which Benjamin Brand wrote, turns her passive, and Harrison encourages Cox to drift mostly unflustered through the increasingly bizarre proceedings.

A picture of the store's exterior pops up in a slide show in the art class she teaches, odd footage from the store's surveillance cameras washes up on her television screen, and a mysterious voice is on the other end of her phone.

Sadly, whoever it is does not announce ''seven days." But ''November" does bear a vague, unfortunate resemblance to the ambiguous horrors and visual nonsense of the ''The Ring."

Just as ''November" is beginning to make a little sense, a freak-out montage appears, and the movie starts over. Sophie drives to the convenient store, sees the shrink, eats with her mother (Anne Archer), talks to a detective (Nick Offerman), and so on. But the repetition does nothing to enrich the story or deepen its star's performance. Cox is often a whiz at delivering withering looks, lunatic outbursts, and piquant sarcasm, but this movie gives her nothing to play, tamping down every ounce of her appeal in a mask of gravitas.

''November" is the sort of the film that labors over matters of time and chronology, presumably in the interest of questioning truth or more likely, because the filmmakers saw ''Last Year at Marienbad" or ''Memento" or any movie featuring a store robbery. Harrison's debut was 2000's ''Groove," a plucky movie set amid San Francisco's rave scene. It was cheesy and overwritten, but it was also full of energy and heart, neither of which has made its way into this pretentious second picture.

The film's repetition of scenes is ill-advised given how unappealing they were the first time around, and those inserted montages are just experimental gibberish.

The only halfway perceptive character in ''November" is that detective, who tells Sophie one of her photographs is ''too arty for its own good." It's a beef all too applicable to this movie.

Wesley Morris can be reached at

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