Directed by Peter Tolan. With Matthew Broderick, Brittany Snow, Steve Coogan and Maura Tierney. Distributed by Magnolia Pictures. 1 hour, 30 mins.


(sex, nudity, profanity, drugs, adult themes). Playing at: Ritz Five.

"My 20-year-old niece is working as a hooker?!"

That's the shocking revelation that sends sitcom writer Taylor Mendon (Matthew Broderick) off to Las Vegas to track down and save his wife's sister's daughter - and thereby save his own marriage - in the dark, off-kilter comedy Finding Amanda.

Brittany Snow, showing a kooky comedic flair (think Judy Holliday), has the title role as the ditsy California kid who leaves home and ends up turning tricks - after taking a pole-dancing seminar at community college. And that description kind of encapsulates the problem with writer-director Peter Tolan's film: Yeah, you can make jokes about prostitution - and about drug, alcohol and gambling addiction, which is what the Broderick character has - but even with a slew of snappy one-liners, ultimately it's not that funny. When Amanda matter-of-factly tells her uncle that she was raped - repeatedly - by another family member, well, it's hard to steer the movie back to the laughs.

It can be done - there are rich, sordid black comedies out there - but Tolan doesn't quite pull it off.

Steve Coogan, playing a casino floor manager, has some witty, winning scenes with Broderick, and Maura Tierney is convincing as the chronically lied-to wife, dealing with the pleas, and the lies, of her messed-up, almost-ex-spouse on the phone. Broderick's Taylor has promised that he's come to Vegas solely to bring Amanda home and into rehab. He won't gamble, he won't drink, he won't take drugs. And then he bets on the horses, orders some booze, and steals an Ecstasy tablet from his niece.

Finding Amanda isn't bad, and there is some smart, jagged humor. After having pasta and wine dumped on him by Amanda's creep boyfriend, Taylor quips: "We must do dinner again. Warn me, I'll wear my best tarp."

But then there's the scene with Snow's Amanda cornered in a bathroom stall, breaking down, quaking with sadness and pain. Not a laff riot.

                        - Steven Rea