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The Calling Game

Number Please: Theresa Randle stars as phone-sex worker Girl 6 in Spike Lee's new comedy.

Spike Lee eavesdrops on sex talkers

By Nicky Baxter

Just when Spike Lee needed a healthy critical and box-office hit, he turns out Girl 6, a sick mess of a comedy. Admittedly, phone-sex work is an inherently twisted business, but Lee's take on it is gratuitously lurid; worse, Girl 6 makes little sense. Theresa Randle stars as an actress unable to buy a break, but the rent's gotta be paid. What starts out as strictly a job gradually metamorphoses into an addiction as she finds herself submerged in the phone-sex industry's red-light mentality. Applying her acting method, she creates phone-sex characters to match her clients' lusty needs only to find herself seduced by the fantasy roleplaying. Meanwhile, her ex-husband (Isaiah Washington) is pestering her for another chance; when he discovers what she does for a living, he is by turns incredulous, curious and, finally, overcome by sexual desire.

And then there is a murky, ill-devised subplot concerning a young girl who, after falling down an elevator shaft, is hospitalized. The ghetto child's tragedy becomes headline news, with big-screen siren Halle Berry popping up on the evening news soliciting public assistance to help pay for hospital costs. What? Berry's not the only Spike-associated superstar to supply a cameo. Longtime Lee collaborator John Turturro essentially reprises the sleazoid role he played (to much greater effect) in Jungle Fever. Elsewhere, pop's queen of prurience, Madonna, is cast as a strip-club proprietor/phone-sex operator.

The laughs are decidedly scant, although the scene featuring a bickering Puerto Rican couple trying to handle their boudoir business over the phone with Girl 39 (Debi Mazar) is scandalously funny. To their everlasting credit, the scrappy performers work hard to rescue the film from its own pretensions. As the ambitious but pragmatic Girl 6, Randle (Bad Boys) digs deep to pin down the essence of real-life issues confronting many women whose path to success is often littered with socio-emotional land mines. To strip or not to strip is all too often a question women in film must grapple with, and Randle's gradual seduction by show business's sex-centered underbelly rings true because she translates this dirty little secret into human terms. As her ex, Washington is a quixotic figure--addlebrained, vulgar and vulnerable. We come to discover that he really does love his ex-wife; what we don't know is why he seems so addicted to self-destructive behavior.

In Crooklyn and Clockers, Lee spent most of his time in the director's seat; Girl 6 marks his full-fledged return to acting, playing Girl 6's buddy Jimmy, the movie's wisecracking conscience. As in the past, Lee's reactions are as funny as anything he actually says. Typically, Lee's character is a loser whose singleminded scheme of someday scooping up a fortune for his prized baseball-card collection conflicts with the exigencies of surviving in the here and now. His low-key acting suggests the kind of depth we would expect of an erstwhile boy wonder pushing 40. Unhappily, it is Lee's misdirected actions behind the camera that have his fans worried.

Girl 6 (R; 109 min.), directed by Spike Lee, written by Suzan-Lori Parks, photographed by Malik Hassan Sayeed and starring Theresa Randle, Isaiah Washington and Spike Lee.

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From the March 28-April 3, 1996 issue of Metro

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