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Film review: 'November' shoots for thrills but merely confuses viewers

'Memento' knockoff wastes decent acting by Courteney Cox

NOVEMBER — ** — Courteney Cox, James Le Gros, Michael Ealy; rated R (violence, profanity, gore, brief drugs, brief sex).

Call it cinematic copycat syndrome. Whenever a startlingly original movie comes around, it usually spawns several knockoffs. Such was the case when other filmmakers tried to duplicate the style of Quentin Tarantino's hits "Pulp Fiction" and "Reservoir Dogs."

But it's not specific to Tarantino. It continues to happen with director Christopher Nolan's 2000 Sundance Film Festival hit, "Memento." The latest wannabe is "November," a fuzzy and ultimately unrewarding psychological thriller.

Like "Memento," the film scrambles the order of scenes to heighten tension to keep viewers in the dark. Unfortunately, it just becomes confusing and a little headache-inducing.

The film wastes a decent lead performance by Courteney Cox, whose credible dramatic turn here comes as a surprise, considering she's known more for her comedy work (in TV's "Friends" and the "Scream" movies).

She stars as Sophie Jacobs, a photography instructor who's haunted by the shooting death of her boyfriend, Hugh (James Le Gros). (She was waiting outside in a car as he and others were shot to death during a convenience-store robbery.)

She's tried several options to ease her pain, including therapy. But things only get worse when she finds mysterious photos that indicate someone else was there when the shooting occurred — that the person in question may have been watching them both.

So Sophie begins retracing her steps, trying to relive the days leading up to the shooting, hoping she can find clues that might reveal who the mystery photographer was or the identity of the shooter.

While the supposed surprise ending will probably confuse a few viewers, it makes some sense. It's just not very satisfying or as clever as director Greg Harrison and screenwriter Benjamin Brand apparently thought it was.

And the conflicting characterization of Sophie, who at times appears to be either manipulative or a helpless victim, makes it too challenging for us to care about her, despite Cox's best efforts.

"November" is rated R for strong violence (shootings), occasional use of strong profanity (some of it sexual), gore, brief drug content (references and prescription use), and brief sexual contact. Running time: 73 minutes.