'Mail Order Wife,' 'Dot the I' and 'Off the Map'

A wickedly funny satire about a lonely slob from Queens, the Burmese bride he orders from a catalog and the documentary filmmaker who chronicles the debacle before luring her away, "Mail Order Wife" sends up everyone in its circuitous path — self-deluded lonely slobs, self-deluded documentary filmmakers, pretentious chef-worshipping dinner guests, salty old Florida swingers, gold-digging Geisha-girls and that specialized subset of muddle-headed manhood that confuses sexual exploitation with humanitarian concern.

Adrian (Adrian Martinez) is an Eldorado-driving doorman who agrees to let Andrew, a documentary filmmaker, chronicle his marriage to the beautiful Lichi (Eugenia Yuan) in exchange for the cost of the setup. Adrian has selected Lichi from the bride sampler of an "international matchmaking agency" catering to silver-haired gents in yachting caps and the comely but poverty-stricken villagers who love them.

Within minutes of bringing her home, though, he is instructing his new bride on the finer points of toilet-scrubbing and amateur porn video production. Things get ugly. And when Andrew comes to the rescue, things get even uglier. (Andrew is played Andrew Gurland, who co-directed "Mail Order Wife" along with Huck Botko).

If the nuggets of P.C. piety and social pretension skewered by "Mail Order Wife" were any meatier, the movie would be a shish kebab.

There's something here to offend every sense of cultural identification and domestic sensibility, and if that doesn't sound wildly appealing, best to check out "Hostage."

"Mail Order Wife," rated R for language and some disturbing sexual material. Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes. Exclusively at the Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 848-3500.

Just remember to dot all the 'I'sA meet-cute British romance genetically spliced with a cat-and-mouse thriller, "Dot the I" flaunts its mood swings from the opening credits, in which a spunky girl flounces around cool-kid London while someone marks up surveillance stills, forensic style, of the apartment in which she lives.

Carmen (Natalia Verbeke), a volatile but emotionally vulnerable Spanish flamenco dancer and sometime burger flipper, lives with the plummy Brit Barnaby (James D'Arcy). He induces trancelike midcoital ceiling fixations in her, but she agrees to marry him anyway. The real trouble begins on the night of Carmen's bachelorette party, when, in compliance with French tradition enforced by her waiter, she kisses one last man before walking the aisle. The lucky guy turns out to be a half-Brazilian filmmaker named Kit (Gael García Bernal in his first English-speaking role), who from then on devotes himself to chasing Carmen. Kit commits their every stolen moment to video, but the rhythmic crackle of static interference on the soundtrack suggests he's not the only one.

As Carmen is torn between two lovers, the movie vacillates between teasing out the romantic agonies of Carmen, Kit and Barnaby, and torturing its trumped-up, self-referential plot about moviemaking. The principal actors are charismatic enough to have carried the love story. But first-time writer-director Matthew Parkhill prefers to lean on clever plot devices, amp up the roles of the movie's sideline jesters Tom (Tom Hardy) and Theo (Charlie Cox), crank up the static noise and fail to notice that his engaging little romance has broken with reality and veered into hollow pastiche.

"Dot the I," rated R for strong sexuality/nudity, language and some violence. Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes. Exclusively at the Landmark Nuart through Thursday, 11272 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 281-8223; opens March 18 in selected theaters.

It's 'Off the Map' in so many waysIt takes a rugged survivalist mentality to sit through 108 minutes of "Off the Map," a self-consciously loopy and mystical drama about a family that lives off the map, off the grid, off the land and mostly off their meds in the mangy desert of New Mexico.

Directed by Campbell Scott ("Final" and, with Stanley Tucci, "Big Night") and adapted by Joan Ackermann from her own play, the movie plays like the al fresco production of a parody of social realist theater — all rangy speeches, quirky characters and wild, roaming symbols. Bo (Valentina de Angelis) is a precocious, home-schooled 11-year-old whose father, Charley (Sam Elliott), comes down with a crippling depression one summer.

While dad weeps mutely in the outhouse and mom Arlene (Joan Allen) hoes the garden naked, Bo pines (who wouldn't?) for the all-American pleasures denied her: a suburban lawn, a new Girl Scout uniform, parents with jobs, a credit card. Salvation appears — or so she thinks — in the form of a newly minted IRS agent who weathers a 10-mile walk in the desert to find them. William Gibbs (Jim True-Frost) comes for the audit but stays — forever — for the enchantment. Fans of the irrepressibly kooky will enjoy such flights of whimsy as a preadolescent scrub-dweller ordering a custom-made sailboat on her new "MasterCharge." How does the delivery guy find the unchartered homestead? She draws him a map.

"Off the Map," rated PG-13 for nudity and thematic elements. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes. At selected theaters.

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