Reviewed By Scott Weinberg
Posted 03/20/03 08:34:57

"The title describes any distributor unwilling to release this lovable flick"
5 stars (Awesome)

If we're not careful, one day ALL romantic comedies will star Jennifer Lopez and Hugh Grant and they'll all continue to feature minor variations on the exact same narrative (wrong side of the tracks/ mistaken identity/ something involving a wager. etc.) Formula sells - at least until the moviegoing masses grow weary of the same old crap. (That rarely happens.) So when I see an off-kilter, bizarrely touching and altogether unique romantic comedy, I feel like I just saw a living dinosaur: something you knew existed once but were sure was now extinct. Now all we need to do is find a distributor for this fantastic little comedy.

I'm sort of a cold-hearted cynical bastard where rom-coms are concerned (a lifetime of swill jammed down your throat can have that effect), but it only took about ten minutes of Greg Pritikin's fantastic Dummy for those layers of cynicism to wash away. So endearing and comedically 'real' are these characters that you'll want to stop the film, climb onscreen and give everyone a big hug.

Or at the very least stay tuned for 90 minutes to see where they all end up.

Our main character is sad-sack nebbish Steve (Adrien Brody, delivering yet another flawless performance), a mousy Jewish guy who still lives at home with his overbearing parents and equally commanding older sister. Long a fan of the ventriloquial arts, Steve opts to buy himself a dummy and learn how to effectively throw his voice. (That his family doesn't find this new hobby all that weird is a clear insight into Steve's character.)

Steve's best (and seemingly only) pal is Fancora (don't call her Fanny), a loud, devoted and disaffected goofball who's as socially clueless as she is cinematically hilarious. That Fancora is played by the always-gorgeous, generally-underrated Milla Jovovich is the main reason I went to see Dummy - as I'm insanely love with the model-turned-singer-turned-actress.

It may sound like damning the gal with faint praise to call her work in Dummy the best of her career, but here she absolutely steals the screen from anyone within spitting distance. Her Fancora is a passionate rocker, a loyal chum, and a rather unintelligent oddball. In other words, you'll love her after five minutes. Milla's taken a lot of smack for her unprepared turn in The Messenger, so it only seems fair to announce that Jovovich the "ak-tor" has finally arrived with Dummy. (Plus she has easily the sexiest eyes on the planet, so there.)

Illeana Douglas is a name familiar to any attentive movie freak. Offering memorable support to films like Ghost World and Stir of Eachoes (and about 2 dozen others), Douglas is a character actor who's always reliable - and the gal simply soars in this one. Chewing into one of her largest roles with a palpable glee, Douglas paints sister Heidi with equal strokes of jealousy, big-sister meanness, tentative compassion, and ultimately outright joy. (Rare is the film that allows us to revel in the successes of the "side characters" like Dummy does, and I think it's a gloriously refreshing switch.)

While the 'main plot' focuses on Steve's newfound skills at ventriliquism (and mostly on how his talent allows him to tentatively woo a lovely employment counselor), Pritikin devotes ample screen time to Fancora's floundering garage band, Heidi's failed engagement and aspiring career as a wedding planner, Pop's arcane obsession with model-making, Mom's silly-yet-effective culinary compulsions, etc., etc. In other words, without two expensive Movie Star Leads to placate, every character is seen as important. Cool, huh?

Suffice to say that there are handfuls of colorful folk populating Dummy - and each one gets to add something worthwhile to the movie as a whole. How a fledgling filmmaker got to populate his first movie with such an eclectic cast is simply beyond me, yet I applaud every actor who drops in. Ron Liebman is hilarious as an obtuse-yet-caring Dad, Vera Farmiga is criminally adorable (and altogether lovable) as the attention of Steve's adoration, and Jared Harris somehow turns the seemingly one-dimensional role of 'spurned wacko' into someone you actually care about...although you probably won't even like him all that much.

Dummy celebrates a lot of things that I'd describe as obvious yet important: love, loyalty, family, forgiveness, tolerance; each one touched upon casually and amusingly and (here's where it gets weird) there's literally NO scenes of schmaltz-heavy pandering, pointless musical montages of heroic pining, etc. Basically this flick ignores everything that makes most modern romantic comedies so freakin' unwatchable.

Does eventually excelling at ventriliquism help Steve grow some self-esteem? Will Heidi forgive her ex-boyfriend (again) or learn to stand on her own two feet? And precisely HOW is rocker Fancora expected to learn a bunch of Klezmer songs for performance at a big Jewish wedding?

Any astute movie freak can predict a handful of happy endings in any romantic comedy, but the fun is in how we get there. Dummy may not redefine a genre or stand out as the most traditional romance under the sun, but this is a sweet, pleasant and often VERY funny movie - and one that absolutely deserves its shot at the local mulitplex. But while Sandy Bullock and Julie Roberts have market cornered on the 'canned ham rom/com' it seems flicks like Dummy are sadly destined for a lifetime on the video shelf.

Oh, and if you (like me) happen to be a Jewish person, this one's one you must track down - if only for a line of dialogue explaining the difference between Italians and Jews and the astoundingly funny sequences of Milla rockin' out in old-school Yiddish. Now there's something you'll never see in a J. Lo flick!

This one WILL pop up somewhere eventually. (It's got a few 'names' and it's simply too good a flick for distributors to dismiss entirely.) I can't speak for what distributors will do, but if you're reading this review right now I can ask you to remember this title and give it a shot when you have the opportunity. Odds are you'd thank me for the tip.

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