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Case Number 05183

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Dummy

Artisan // 2002 // 92 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Elizabeth Skipper (Retired) // September 15th, 2004

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All Rise...

Call Judge Elizabeth Skipper that again and she'll knock your wooden head off.

The Charge

A comedy about finding your voice before you lose your mind.

Opening Statement

Let me say this up front, to assuage your fears: Dummy, despite being a movie about a ventriloquist and his dummy, is not at all cheesy.

No, really.

Facts of the Case

Steven (Adrien Brody, The Pianist) doesn't have much going for him. He lives at home with his parents, he's stuck in a dead-end job, and he wears really dorky glasses. But his life gets a little better when, after being fired from his job, he decides to take a step toward his dream of becoming a ventriloquist: He buys a dummy. And, gradually and then suddenly, Steven emerges from his shell. The dummy starts out as a personification of his own insecurities—giving an audible voice to the harsh running commentary we can only assume Steven has been hearing in his head all along—but eventually becomes what we all sometimes wish we could have: an excuse to turn off the censor that resides between our brains and our mouths.

Along the way Steven meets Lorena (Vera Farmiga, Touching Evil), his employment counselor, who gives him the impetus to continue his emergence from his shell. As expected, a budding—though odd—romance emerges as well.

Steven's transformation affects those around him, too, snapping his friend, Fangora (Milla Jovovich, Resident Evil), out of her rut, and reminding his sister, Heidi (Ileana Douglas, Grace of My Heart), of her own abandoned dreams.

The Evidence

Maybe because the dummy is nothing more than a prop, a unique way to foster the growth of a character, or maybe because there are no tricks or special effects involved (as a caption at the end of the movie states, Adrien Brody performed all the ventriloquism live), the dummy in Dummy does not feel out of place or forced. And I give writer and director Greg Pritikin a lot of credit for accomplishing that.

Helping in this feat is the participation of some talented actors. Notable are Ileana Douglas, who gives a more nuanced performance than I'm used to seeing from her, and Vera Farmiga, whom I look forward to seeing in a more prominent role, but it is Brody who pulls off the coup of making Dummy believable. Putting aside the awe-inspiring achievement of learning ventriloquism for a role, I am thoroughly impressed with Brody's ability to draw his audience in, to allow us to forget that we are watching a movie.

Despite my accolades, though, Dummy is not perfect. While Brody attempts to keep the movie from becoming farcical, others—namely Stephen's father (Ron Leibman, Friends) and Heidi's ex-boyfriend (Jared Harris, Igby Goes Down)—do nothing but move it in that direction. The resulting tug-of-war gets a bit tiring, but Brody's talent prevails, and Dummy remains the warm comedy it ought to be.

The audio and video transfers are not bad, but they're nowhere near top-notch either, and they tended to detract from my enjoyment. The colors are washed out, the blacks grayed out, and specks of dirt abound. Further, the Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound makes so little use of the surrounds and the subwoofer that I wonder why they bothered including 5.1 in the first place.

Surprisingly, the disc's extras are quite extensive for an indie film, comprising:
• Picture-in-Picture Ventriloquist Commentary by Jeff Dunham with Special Guests Walter and Peanut—This commentary is funny and worth watching at least in part, but it's not even slightly informative, and I would have appreciated a director's commentary to balance it. Also, the commentary picture flashes on and off, sometimes coming back for mere seconds at a time. I don't know why it doesn't stay on all the time; if we wanted to watch the movie sans commentary picture, we wouldn't be watching the commentary track.
• Dummies 101: Learning the Ventriloquist Dream—This is a surreal (in the worst sense of the word) mockumentary about a ventriloquism class taught by Jeff Dunham. Skip it; it's a waste of space.
• What Type of Dummy Are You?—This text quiz is also a bit pointless.
• Ventriloquism: A History of Dummies—More text, this history is, frankly, dull.
• Six Ventriloquist Lessons—The best of the extras, these lessons are "hidden" throughout the menus. Once you find them, Jeff Dunham will teach you the basics of ventriloquism, focusing on sound substitutions that allow you to speak without moving your lips.
• Deleted Scenes—These scenes were deleted for a reason.
• Trailers for Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, The Punisher (2004), House of the Dead, Quicksand, Step Into Liquid, and The Big Empty.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

As Jeff Dunham brought up in the commentary, I'm supposed to believe that a 30-year-old man who lives with his parents, was just fired, and carries a doll can win the heart of a character played by the lovely Vera Farmiga (or any woman, for that matter)? I don't care how cute he is (and, with the glasses Brody wears in this movie, that's not really the word I would use to describe him), no amount of reality suspension will help me believe that one.

Closing Statement

Dummy is not much more than a romantic comedy with a unique twist. But is that really such a bad thing? In this age of sequels, prequels, and trilogies, uniqueness is, well, unique, and I believe we ought to celebrate it, even when it doesn't completely succeed. Endearing, often funny, and always downright cute, Dummy is worth your time. If you don't love it, at least you've experienced something different. How often can you say that these days?

The Verdict

This court rules that the sworn testimony provided by the dummy qualifies as hearsay and is therefore inadmissible. All charges are dropped and the defendant is free to go.

Case dismissed.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 80
Audio: 80
Extras: 95
Acting: 97
Story: 92
Judgment: 94

Perp Profile

Studio: Artisan
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Subtitles:
• Spanish
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Rated R
Genres:
• Comedy
• Drama
• Romance
• Romantic Comedies

Distinguishing Marks

• Picture-in-Picture Ventriloquist Commentary by Jeff Dunham with Special Guests Walter and Peanut
• Dummies 101: Learning the Ventriloquist Dream
• What Type of Dummy Are You?
• Ventriloquism: A History of Dummies
• Six Ventriloquist Lessons
• Deleted Scenes
• Trailers for Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, The Punisher, House of the Dead, Quicksand, Step Into Liquid, and The Big Empty

Accomplices

• IMDb








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