Evidentially, Marci X is not of paramount importance to Paramount, it being one of those pictures unceremoniously dumped into the movie marketplace without the courtesy of a critics' screening (never an encouraging sign), ticking off the aisle men and forcing them to write on the edge of a deadline, causing some unsightly errors in facts (but not in taste). The New York Times, the pre-Jayson Blair paper of record, listed the film's running time as 97 minutes. The Post posted 84 minutes. And the Daily News tallied 73 minutes. Granted, the movie seems edited by committee (if not machete), but the powers-that-be should have gotten together about how much of this incredible shrinking mess is worth releasing.

Less is not necessarily more with Marci X. In fact, if it wins at all, it's with the little things rather than the big picture, which grows blurrier as the narrative lumbers on.

Writer Paul Rudnick has trained his theatre audiences (via Jeffrey and The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told) to listen up--he needlepoints his wit, indulging in throwaway lines and celebrity sideswiping--but film audiences (Sister Act, In & Out) must catch as catch can. His brightest moments in Marci X are ones that allow him to spoof isolated abstracts of the contemporary music scene (like a gay-rinse version of N Sync called Boys 'R' Us). The scene itself eludes him, and the plotline gets lost in arbitrary twists and illogical turns.

Lisa Kudrow is our title heroine, a Jewish-American princess who steps up to the plate to save her father's company when he is felled by a heart attack. A pious right-wing senator (Christine Baranski at her most strident) is sticking it to Dad because his media conglomerate owns a rap label, Lethal Assault, whose star attraction--a Mr. S (Damon Wayans)--has crude, lewd hits like "Shoot the Teacher" and "The Power in My Pants."

Marci X opts to mix it up with Mr. S and heads uptown to Harlem on a peace-making mission, accompanied by a trio of shopping confidantes (Jane Krakowski, Sherie Rene Scott, Veanne Cox), kind of a Junior League-type Greek chorus who can in a pinch do rap backup. Before you know it, they're doing just that on the Apollo stage when Mr. S taunts Marci X into turning rapper and returning his serve with "The Power in My Purse."

At this juncture, the film takes a wrong turn into romantic comedy, although nothing in the script or in the chemistry of the two players suggests such a move. Together, they are half the characters they were as individuals. The plot flops around idly till matters are resolved in a big musical number. Songs are by Mervyn Warren and Hairspray's Marc Shaiman. Richard Benjamin, a long way from My Favorite Year, directs and plays Dad (well).

-Harry Haun