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Nurse Betty

Fantasy collides with reality when a soap-addicted housewife (Zellweger) witnesses her estranged husband's murder. Shocked out of reality and into a fantasy world, she sets out to L.A. to find the man of her dreams, dashing daytime-drama doctor David Ravell (Greg Kinnear). But she has no grasp that her ''ex-fiancé'' is simply an actor named George, and two determined hit men (Morgan Freeman and Chris Rock) are hot on her trail.


Upbeat and in a dreamlike state for much of the picture, Zellweger wins you over from the get-go with her optimistic portrayal of a lost soul with a heart of gold. Kinnear gamely parodies his smarmy personality as the smug star who may actually have a conscience. Rock and Freeman kill, literally and figuratively, as the bickering hit-man duo on a quest for a last job, and Crispin Glover (''Back to the Future'') pops up for an amusing bit part. Where has this guy been lately?


LaBute, who wrote and directed his last two films, created a definite niche with the twisted humor and misogynistic overtones of ''In the Company of Men'' and ''Your Friends & Neighbors.'' In his latest outing, he directs from a well-written screenplay by newcomers John C. Richards and James Flamberg. ''Nurse Betty'' ranks as a marked departure from LaBute's standard fare, but it's a definite step towards a more mature and confident style of directing. With comic timing reminiscent of David O Russell's ''Flirting With Disaster,'' LaBute's shocking bouts of intermittent violence are a bit excessive for such a sweet and goofy tale, but work effectively to flesh out the harshness of the real world against Betty's dreamy unreality.

Bottom Line

This ''Betty'' is one of the finest-written surprises of the year.