Erin Brockovich (Review)

Erin Brockovich (Review)

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Think ''A Civil Action'' with boobs, and you''ll get the basic idea.

The acting, editing, screenwriting are all first rate, but they do seem to be overwhelmed by the obsessive focus on Julia Roberts'' breasts. Whether imposing new dimensions to her stardom reflect surgical enhancement or merely the latest triumph of push-up bra technology, only her intimates can say with certainty. Nevertheless, you can safely assume that her amazing body and flashy wardrobe will inspire far more conversation than the earnest plot about a struggling single mom who helps fight a big company that''s been polluting the water supply in a California desert town. Roberts does an exceptionally self-assured, surprisingly subtle job bringing her saucy, salty character to life.

Erin Brockovich is a twice divorced mother of three (and former Miss Wichita) who can''t figure out a good way to pay her bills. She forces her way into a filing job with a tacky, ambulance chasing lawyer (the marvelous Albert Finney) but one file in particular grabs her attention. She becomes convinced that the terrible illnesses suffered in one small town in the Mojave stem from the irresponsible practices of a nearby power plant. Signing up 600 plaintiffs door to door, Erin prods her reluctant boss to take on the corporate goliath.

Sure, it''s preachy and predictable but director Steven Soderbergh (in his best work since ''sex, lies and videotape'') paces the proceedings so carefully and lets events unfold so intelligently that the movie is difficult to resist. Aaron Eckhart (''In the Company of Men'') delivers exceptional supporting work as a biker/construction worker smitten with Erin and willing to babysit her kids.

The politically correct messages (Single moms are good, big corporations are bad; lawyers suing for $300 million and keeping 40% for themselves are crusading heroes) play an unmistakable role in the drama but the human aspects of the story take precedence. So many recent films-''The Rainmaker'' and ''Civil Action'' come readily to mind--- cast class action lawsuits in such a positive light that I can''t help wondering if the plaintiffs bar has deliberately made efforts to influence Hollywood.

There''s also a disturbing underlying assumption to this film --- that big, fat checks make for happy, fairy-tale endings, even when people are desperately sick from cancer. Perhaps only a lawyer could look upon big bucks as the solution to all suffering.

With all these reservations, no one can deny the effectiveness of the rich, well-rounded performances, or Soderbergh''s patient skill at unfolding his story (it will prove too slow for some jaded tastes). Erin''s potty mouth (a good deal of her dialogue consists of four-letter words) and a few discreet sex scenes and references earned an R rating, but it should also draw an ''LM'' designation for ''Liberal Messages.''

THREE STARS --- but leave your analytical faculties at home.