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IN SHORT: 91% persistently hysterical. [Rated R for language. 90 minutes]
We deduct 9% for the non-hysterical gaffes in Greg Pritikin's directorial debut 'cuz, ultimately, he's the boss. That being said, Dummy suffers only from the usual blight of low budget films, the refusal to hire a sound person that knows what (he) is doing. In this particular case, since one of Pritikin's funniest jokes involves characters singing a song, someone should have informed the man about how the process of lip synching is done. (The actors record the song first and mime. You don't record the song after the fact and try to match it up to an already filmed performance. It's so blatantly wrong that even idiots can look at the screen and ask "Why don't the lips match up to the words?" A lot of the production sound and the editing thereof in Dummy bites. We'll also ignore the fact that if you beat up on a microphone it makes a lot of noise because that aspect is not all that important. [We'll also ask y'all if you, too, see that, from time to time a number of frames seem to be dropped as well -- meaning that the picture you see on screen appears to stagger. We thought our eyes were deceiving us the first time it happened but it happens at least four times and we'll be damned if we can tell you why.]
We had to get those items off our chest. Having done that, we can move on to the more important point: Dummy is an incredibly funny film -- critics we know that wouldn't laugh and a terrific surprise in a week filled with only average releases, regardless of the pedigree of their stars. Dummy, of course, has Oscar winner Adrien Brody as its star in a performance locked down before his work on The Pianist. Yes, Dummy has been in the can for that long. we'll be damned if we can tell you why on that one as well.
Well, sure it's about a brother and sister who are still unmarried and living with their parents as age thirty approaches. It's never specified that the family is Jewish but there's enough tribal flavor to the film that we'll make that assumption. If you've never met a Jewish person in your life or no absolutely nothing about us, know that a "hora" is a dance. That's about all the Yiddish you'll need to know to get one of the jokes.
Steven Schoichet (Adrien Brody) is a shy guy who is tired of his nondescript job at about the time that making that decision proves to be a moot point. Steve has a hankering to become a professional ventriloquist. He's got a photo of Paul Winchell and Jerry Mahoney on his wall and a self-instructional book -- no, it's not "Ventriloquism for Dummies" which would be a lot funnier than "Ventriloquism for Fun and Profit" -- a low budget sometimes means a production can't clear trademarks to make the parody. We'd find out if we had time but we're on deadline so . . .
Once out of work, Steven reports to the unemployment bureau where he meets Lorena Panchetti (Vera Farmiga). The boy is smitten. Steven's best friend from high school, a foul mouthed punk rocker star wannabe Fanny "Fangora" Gerkel (Milla Jovovich), checks out the new talent to uncover the story of the child (Mirabella Pisani) the pair has seen Lorena's with. There's a good joke that comes with that revelation, later in the film. For now, let's just say that Jovovich flat out steals the show and move on to the rest of the Schoichet family.
Sister Heidi (Illeana Douglas) passed on a dream to become a professional singer and now plans weddings. Actually she just landed her first big contract and she's not about to let anything get in the way. That includes her alcoholic abusive stalker ex-fiance Michael Folicker (Jared Harris) who's really much better -- he's stalking Steven as a go-between -- now that he's found a new career in community theater. Heidi's main problem is that she's got to ask mom for the car keys each and every day. Mom Fern (Jessica Walter) always has a plate of food in her hand, ready to go. Dad Lou (Ron Liebman), a year into retirement, spends all his time building scale models of WWII battleships.
Need we mention that Steven is so shy that the only way he can make comfortable communication with the potential girlfriend is through the dummy on his arm? The dummy character Steven creates is a perfect self-hater with a sharp tongue. A perfect psychological parody if, indeed, the family is of the Tribe. That Fanny is not leads to some of the funniest gags as she swears to Heidi that her band is aces at Klezmer music, needed for the Jewish wedding Heidi is planning. The jokes you'll see at that wedding are all visual and don't need any additional explanation from us.
Dummy covers all the bases, from brother-sister rivalry to intellectually creative jokes to lewd and crude language and visuals. Brody handles the ventriloquist art with aplomb. Jovovich handles the Yiddish well enough, except for that lip synch thing. Not her problem. Over all, we laughed a lot. So did the house and that includes the professional critics we sit with.We can attest that pro critics don't, pretty much as a rule, react in any way while they're in a screening. They did.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Dummy, he would have paid . . .
Dummy is in limited release so you'll have to hunt it out and
plant with a crowd. The writing is smart and funny enough that we didn't
need a laughing audience to get us into the film. Search it out.
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