Views & Reviews From Writer Steve Miller
Formerly Reviews and Stuff at Rotten Tomatoes, 2005 - 2009.

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Friday, December 2, 2011

'Dummy' is a feel-good flick

Dummy (2002)
Starring: Adrian Brody, Milla Jovovich, Illeana Douglas, Vera Farmiga, and Jared Harris
Director: Greg Pritikin
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

Pushing 30 and still living at home with his parents, Steven (Brody) finds inspiration to give direction to his so-far aimless life in an old movie and sets out to become a professional ventriloquist. Along the way, the lives of his best friend (Jovovich), his sister (Douglas), and unemployment adviser (Farmiga) are transformed and improved as well.

"Dummy" is one of those smart, arty comedies that in my experience are either completely miss the mark and become either boring or depressing, or are very, very entertaining; I don't recall ever seeing one of these films fall into a middleground... although given the number of films I see, it's possible that one was just so mediocre it has faded from mind.

"Dummy" is neither boring, nor depressing, or mediocre. It's an excellent film is every possible way, with quirky characters that never feel artificial or forced, even when each and every one of their lives turn around from miserable states of loserhood to successes. In just about every way, this film feels like a modern version of some of those 1930s and 1940s comedies where everyone is struggling or is miserable in one way or another, but by the end everyone is happy. It's a great fantasy flick that way, a very uplifting, feel-good picture.

Everyone of the stars is excellent in the film. Adrien Brody in particular is remarkable in the way he manages to play a weak and milquetoast character and still commands the center of the picture at all times. And this is no small feat, because he's competing for our attention with a flamboyant and hilarious character portrayed by Milla Jovovich--Fangora, his life-long, socially maladjusted best friend who hasn't progressed much emotionally or socially since high school and is even still trying to make a go at being a rock star with an awful garage band.

As a character, Fangora is far more interesting than Steven, her character arc has a lot more comedy to it, and Jovovich is great in the part; if you've only ever seen her in "Resident Evil" and similar recent action films, you don't know what she's capable of as an actress until you see one of her more offbeat pictures like this one. But, despite everything pointing to the audience wanting her to be the center of the film--and wanting to get back to her story thread whenever were dealing with Steven and his romantic struggles with his single-mother employment adviser, or his attempts to shield his sister from her abusive ex--Brody is equally great in his part... infusing the whole movie with such humanity that his character remains the focus of our attention, despite it all. (Although I must say that when it came to the film's climax, it was Jovovich's Fangora and her band that I found myself more interested in, just because their path to possible success was so fun and outrageous. And to say any more would be a major spoiler and would ruin some of the film's funniest jokes.)

Much credit for this, of course, goes to writer/director Greg Pitikin for crafting the movie so perfectly, and for the excellent cast supporting Brody and Jovovich were surrounded by. Every right note is hit at the right moment, and everything is constantly clicking.

Except for the very last moment of the film. Literally, those final few seconds cost "Dummy" a full star, knocking it down from a high Nine rating to an Eight.

Earlier, I mentioned that this film a great piece of fantasy, and I meant that in the sense that it's one of those stories that makes one wish real life worked like this... where everything works out in the end for everyone, even the bad guys. Unfortunately, Pitikin took the fantasy aspect just one step too far at the very end, appearing to imbue Steven's dummy with some sort of magical quality. It's a move that seems out of step with everything that has gone before.

Despite one stumble at the end, this is a film that's well worth seeking out and checking out.

The Jovovich fans out there may be interested in taking a look at the Milla Jovovich Quarterly series at Shades of Gray.


  1. Hmm. Never saw this one. Wasn't there an 80s TV show called "What a Dummy!". I think I saw an episode or two of that one.

  2. Tom: Not many people did, apparently. It played for a week or two on a handful of screens and brought in about 80K. It only got a DVD release after Adrien Brody did "The Pianist" and was nominated for an Oscar.

    This is another one of those films that deserved a much wider audience than it got.