'Stop right there where you are in your tracks,' orders Trixie Zurbo, an undercover security guard at a lakefront casino, as she confronts a wary suspected criminal. It's an order even a guilty suspect might wonder about, but then Trixie is not your average cop. And Alan Rudolph's Trixie is not your everyday movie, aiming, as it does, to combine a detective thriller, a screwball comedy and something of a homage to playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan and his most famous creation, the formidable but language-challenged Mrs. Malaprop.

Still a bit shaky after the murder of a security colleague, Trixie, played to a fare-thee-well by Emily Watson, has been shunted off to the Crescents Cove Casino for what promises to be light duty. And, at first, going undercover to catch pickpockets at the vacation spot is just that. Kirk (Nathan Lane), the casino's lounge act, takes her under his wing, as do Ruby (Brittany Murphy), a young bar fixture, and Dex (Dermot Mulroney), a handsome young man who catches her eye. But there are other guests at the casino, unsavory ones, and Trixie's gumshoe instincts start kicking in.

Over the course of some 17 features, Alan Rudolph has long demonstrated his skills as a perceptive observer of life's misfits and dreamers. Trixie Zurbo is both a misfit and a dreamer, but she is perhaps most defined by her mangling of the English language and her sweet-natured inability to uncross the crossed wires of her everyday speech. Trixie confuses 'altercation' and 'alteration' at the drop of a hat and 'condominium' with 'pandemonium,' without missing a beat. What's worse is that she's infectious. Not to be confused with 'in Texas.'

Rudolph gets maximum comic mileage out of his title character's ongoing skirmishes with the English language, but as the film grows darker and more melodramatic, Trixie's malapropisms take a back seat to a somewhat lurid tale of murder, blackmail and political intrigue. Although, at one point in the film's densely plotted second half, Trixie can't help pointing out that 'somebody could get killed here or die.'

If someone does meet a violent end, suspicion will inevitably fall on Senator Drummond Avery, played with gusto by Nick Nolte, or on Red Rafferty, a corrupt resort developer, played by Will Patton. As Trixie would say: 'And that's the truth, the hole in the truth and nothing but the truth.'

If two of the movie's most predominant themes are truth and language, the bottom line, regrettably, is that Trixie hammers so-called truths home relentlessly and Watson's character is burdened with so many malapropisms that her credibility begins to suffer. Presumably, Senator Avery's oily political rhetoric is meant to be offset by Trixie's authenticity, but how authentic can she be calling herself a 'private defective' and spouting lines like: 'You've got to grab the bull by the tail and look it in the eye.' Trixie might have worked better had it stayed with comedy, but once it lurches into melodrama, to quote Trixie, it 'can't go back to square zero.'

--Ed Kelleher