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MOVIE REVIEWS : TOO MANY DUMMIES IN ‘MANNEQUIN’

“Mannequin” (citywide) gives us a dreamy Philadelphia schmo and his dream girl, a mannequin at a fashionable department store. By day, the schmo toils at Prince and Co., in rooms stuffed with lingerie and VCRs. At night he carouses in the window displays with his perfect--if initially stiff--darling.

It’s a concept that could make your mind reel, especially if you’ve seen too many movies where the ingenues not only looked like mannequins, but acted like them. What’s in the offing here? Plaster passion? Dummy hugs?

Not at all. “Mannequin’s” mannequin is a reincarnated Egyptian princess named Emmy (Kim Cattrall), an all-purpose siren who flits through the centuries, inspiring great men to their best efforts. Here, her sights are lower: inspiring Jonathan Switcher (Andrew McCarthy) to become the city’s heaviest store-window designer--igniting a two-store feud and endless speculation on Switcher’s sanity.

It’s a determinedly bright and cheery movie--the mannequins are bright, the dummies are cheery. It tries to catch the flavor of the studio “Golden Age” comedies, the fantasy comedies of the ‘40s--all those movies where angels, elves, sprites and Santas descended on modern-day America, throwing it into tizzies. Like those movies, made for an age when rationalism was on the march, “Mannequin” is a wish-fulfillment comedy. But it’s a pretty sterile wish. (Plaster assignations in the windows of Saks?) And since the film makers don’t take it in interesting directions, it tries to get by on high energy.

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Young writer-director Michael Gottlieb is a specialist in TV commercials, and his sense of comedy seems almost wholly TV-ad derived. It’s punchy, glitzy, vacuous: slapstick with glamorous angles and lighting. Comical bulldogs called Rambo waddle after paranoid security officers. The actors mug, scream, tumble around--the gags here might be used to sell flapjacks or express mail. Gottlieb’s idea of a joyous, buoyant scene is to have his heroine go hang-gliding in the atrium, a notion that makes your neck ache.

Gottlieb is not untalented. He can push some of this material across. He’s assembled a smart, bright cast: McCarthy, Cattrall, Estelle Getty as Prince and Co.'s owner, Meshach Taylor as a flaming window dresser named Hollywood, Carole Davis as a conniving mistress. Cattrall has a warming smile, and McCarthy and Taylor are fine (though Taylor’s role--shrieks and all--seems like leftover “La Cage aux Folles”).

It’s the material that’s a problem, its sheer emptiness. Gottlieb and co-writer Ed Rugoff are clumsily trying to re-create something that’s better if it’s done cannily, with no illusions. It’s like a one-minute TV-ad pastiche of a Western (in contrast to a real Western by Ford or Peckinpah): a look without an ethos, a style without a soul, laughs without a belly. But here, the minute is stretched to 90.

For some reason they rarely use, or use well, the basic comic kernel of their own premise: the fact that Jonathan would try to hide his affair with the mannequin, try to disguise--under the villains’ watchful eyes--their amours. Here, sometimes, he just trundles her off to the ladies’ restroom, says “Excuse me,” and everyone rolls their eyes and clucks, “Oh, that crazy Jonathan!” It’s as if the film makers had the aspirations of classy old-style Hollywood hacks, but not their tricks: They don’t know in which dummies the gold is buried.

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‘MANNEQUIN’ A 20th Century Fox release of a Gladden Entertainment presentation. Producer Art Levinson. Director Michael Gottlieb. Script Edward Rugoff, Gottlieb. Executive producers Joseph Farrell, Rugoff. Camera Tim Suhrstedt, Editor Richard Halsey, Music Sylvester Levay. Production design Josan Russo. With Andrew McCarthy, Kim Cattrall, Estelle Getty, James Spader, G. W. Bailey, Carole Davis, Meshach Taylor.

Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes.

MPAA rating: PG (parental guidance suggested; some material may not be suitable for children).


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