March 20, 2000 7:40 PM EST

Poor Erin Brockovich. a twice-divorced mother of three, she lacks money for her kids’ day care and her own meal at a diner. Yet Erin (Julia Roberts) has the stash for an endless supply of trashy frocks, which she wears to job interviews, even to court as the plaintiff in a car-crash suit. They’re the sort of clothes that Roberts’ hooker in Pretty Woman would have rejected as way too gaudy.

The wardrobe is about as subtle as Steven Soderberg’s grandstanding movie gets. As the real-life paralegal who uncovered a public-health scandal and helped win the largest civil judgment ever, Roberts gets to tell off lawyers, clerks, her decent boss (Albert Finney) and her faultless boyfriend (Aaron Eckhart) from the righteous perch of her 3-in. heels. And the bras that peek above her sweaters–they’re more colorful than a Disney cartoon production number. They also provide the movie’s only true uplift.

Look, we think it’s neat that this story, about folks poisoned by water laced with hexavalent chromium, caught the eye of studio execs who haven’t drunk tap water in years. And it’s fine if today’s only female box-office magnet wants to do Norma Rae Takes a Civil Action. (Her teary phone call alone will guarantee an Oscar nomination.) But does the film, written by Susannah Grant, have to be both heckling and truckling? Everyone in it has one job: to endure Erin’s ballsy superiority. Real actresses, like Cherry Jones, Marg Helgenberger and Veanne Cox, must play victim or scapegoat as the star flashes her scalding stare, her money-shot smile.

Erin Brockovich is slick, grating and false. We bet it makes a bundle.

 

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