Dummy

on September 12, 2003 by Bridget Byrne
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The art of ventriloquism asks the audience to turn a blind eye to the handler and keep your focus on the dummy: If you watch the wooden mouth move, you won't catch any of the muscles flexing in the human neck, and you'll buy the fantasy.

This "Dummy" certainly has enough charm to get your attention, but not quite enough to disguise the mechanics of its making. It's a sweetly sad and sadly funny tale, conceived with quirky sensitivity, but, though its actors are adept, it only just hangs together, like a sitcom still in rehearsal stages. It's kind of like an excellent story read out loud with occasional wrong inflections. Greg Pritikin's writing skills have created some excellent characters and situations, which as a director he can't quite control--sort of like this ventriloquist's situation with his dummy.

Adrien Brody has the appropriate demeanor and simpatico looks for Steven Schoichet, a young man who could make something good out of his life--if only his family treated him like a grown-up, and he believed he was one. But that's hard when you're still living at home and everyone else around you is locked into self-indulgent obsessions. He decides to risk indulging his own dream, freeing all the great stuff locked inside him through the artifice of ventriloquism. Trying to perfect his skills, bond with his dummy, and survive the scoffing hurled his way, he manages to open himself up to real feelings and some adult truths. Along the two-steps-forward-one-step-back journey, he becomes a kind of emotional golden goose, leading his family and acquaintances through pain and laughter to a better life experience.

Illeana Douglas as Steven's love-blighted wedding planner sister and Milla Jovovich as his overzealous punk singer neighbor seem a little too broad in their roles. So do Ron Liebman and Jessica Walter as the parents with no parenting skills, although they can be excused for simply trying to pump energy into underwritten parts. As the single mother with whom Steven falls in love, Vera Farmiga is suitably sensible and sweet. The dummy is well cast and, thanks to Brody, has inner life and fine comic timing. Starring Adrien Brody, Illeana Douglas, Vera Farmiga, Milla Jovovich, Jessica Walter, Ron Liebman and Jared Harris. Directed and written by Greg Pritikin. Produced by Bob Fagan and Richard Temtchine. An Artisan release. Comedy. Rated R for language. Running time: 90 min

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