Artisan // R // $26.98 // February 17, 2004
Review by J. Doyle Wallis | posted March 25, 2004
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Dummy is an eccentric comedy that is stale in at least two ways. First, the film itself which is a very plain, uninvolving look at a family of oddball losers; second, in the fact that it sat on the shelf for three years only to be scrounged up after star Adrian Brody got Oscar buzz for his breakthrough performance in Polanski's The Pianist.

Steven Schoichet (Adrian Brody) is a shy introverted young man living at home with his meal obsessed mom, battleship model building/porn watching father, and wedding planner/stalked by her ex-fiancee sister, Hedi (Illeana Douglas). His only friend is childhood pal, bundle of energy, punk rocker Fangora (Milla Jovovitch). Steven loses his job at a sterile office and decides to pursue his dream of becoming a ventriloquist. Steven finds romance in his employment agency counselor, Lorena, and, despite Fangora's misguided help (advice like spray painting love notes on Lorena's front door), attempts to woo her and finds confidence he never had before. All perhaps thanks to a dummy.

Dummy is a film about eccentric suburbanites yet nothing really imaginative happens. Okay, so the imagery of Steven on the toilet with his dummy on his lap or with the dummy in the shopping cart as they look for dummy clothes in the childrens department of Target is oddball enough, but the unbelievable love interest and formulaic "everybodys happy" ending is the stuff of stale romantic comedies and Hallmark commercials. The story seriously is need of milking something specific, but the oddity, drama, and comedy each fall flat. It isn't too straight, too weird, or too funny, and in the end that lukewarm feeling makes it not very involving.

Brody inhabits Steven and manages to portray him as a sweet, quiet, yet socially inept fringe dweller, and his ventriloquism is pretty good. But, Steven is still too weird and blank for the normal, pretty, single mother, Lorena. I never once found a believable reason or bit of behavior to convince me why she would entertain dating such an obviously inhibited, savant like young man.

I just never bought into the weirdness of the film. The quirks felt tacked on instead of natural like the offbeat behavior in the universe of a Coen Bros. comedy. It just felt like I was being set-up. Even the side-plot of Fangora and her band learning klesmer music so they can play at a wedding Hedi was planning, just felt like oddness for oddness sake and a way to have everybody converge at the end... Maybe if the film had some funnier moments... Maybe if it didn't have such a formulaic plot.... As it is, Dummy is an offbeat film that is off the mark.

The DVD: Artisan

Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. Director Greg Pritkin doesn't have much visual flair and the film has a decidedly indie scope to begin with. Artisan's transfer deosn't exactly help matters very much. The print is a tad soft at times and the color scheme a bit too bright, washing out the hues and giving flesh tones a paleness. The transfer also has some minor edge enhancement. The image falls into a very middling territory, not so terrible, but still in need of improvement.

Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, 2.0 Stereo with optional English subtitles. The sound quality is a bit on the dull side, though in all fairness, a small scale comedy doesn't exactly cry out for much audio dynamics in order to be good. That said it is the normal centered vocals, some subtle atmospheric sound fx with the music score getting the real surround workout.

Extras: Okay, here is an example where beyond the normal stuff like Chapter Selections, you get a list of extras options that sound good but actually do not amount to very much. Ventriloquism and dummies are a metaphorical tool in the actual film (Steven finds his inner voice through his dummy) but Artisan takes a very literal approach to this in the extras.

First there is the "What kind of dummy are you game?" followed by "History of dummies" text.-- 5 Deleted Scenes are presented in a rough state, time encoded with low, nearly non-existent, audio levels.-- The rest of the extras involve ventriloquist Jeff Dunham and his dummy pals Peanut and Walter. "Ventriloquism Lessons" are a "find it" feature throughout the disc that speaks for itself. "Dummies 101: Learning the Ventriloquism Dream" (19:24) is a tongue in cheek featurette with Dunham teaching a class on ventriloquism. It is an extended mock gag that offers zero insight into the actual film and wears out its welcome. Commentary by Jeff Dunham, Walter, and Peanut. This commentary actually is a "pop-up" window so you can see Dunham and his dummies. Basically it is a Mystery Science Theaterlike segment with Dunham and dolls trying to add quips to the film, once again, wearing out their welcome and offering almost zero insight into the actual film.

Conclusion I guess in the same way I felt the film failed to really nail down a tone (not quite believably dramatic, not really too funny, odd but ultimatley stale) Artisan had the same problems tagging on significant extras, offering up a selection that, beyond some throwaway deleted scenes, do not provide an involving look into the actual film. Therefore, for those with offbeat comedic tastes, this one is definite rental material.

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