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MOVIE REVIEW : ‘Meet the Hollowheads’ Goes Underground for a Few Laughs

TIMES STAFF WRITER

“Meet the Hollowheads” (selected theaters) is a strange little dark comedy set in an apparently subterranean world of the future. Life is sustained by a vast and intricate system of tubes under the management of United Umbilical Corp. Everything comes and goes via suction tubes: phone calls as well as giant, easily sliced worms, the basic food supply.

The Hollowhead family lives in a cramped but elaborately equipped module that resembles the interior of a submarine done over with brightly colored decorator touches. There’s also a snake-like creature with a giant eye coiled in a large glass cylinder in the living room.

Director Tom Burman, a special-effects veteran in his directorial debut, and his co-writer, Lisa Morton, are intent on setting up a contrast between the Hollowheads, a perfectly normal All-American family, and their bizarre environment. The irony is that their story not only might just as easily have been told in any suburb of Middle America but also actually would have had more meaning. The entirely artificial world of the film has been ingeniously designed, but as a setting it serves no real purpose.

The oily regional president of United Umbilical, Mr. Crabneck (Richard Portnow), has impulsively invited himself to dinner at the home of one of his minor employees, Henry Hollowhead (John Glover), a meter reader. Thoroughly obnoxious, Mr. Crabneck humiliates Hollowhead and his younger son Billy (Matt Shakman) and makes crude overtures to his wife Miriam (Nancy Mette) and teen-age daughter Cindy (Juliette Lewis).

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To be sure, the lacquered, seemingly hare-brained Miriam and the wimpy Henry and their three children (Lightfield Lewis play the older brother) finally stand their ground against Mr. Crabneck. What happens next does not seem nearly as extreme as if had been taking place in San Fernando Valley.

“Meet the Hollowheads” brings to mind the cannibal comedy “Parents,” which attempted to expose the savagery beneath the surface of the mythically ideal suburban American family of the ‘50s. The world of “Meet the Hollowheads” is so weird that nothing in it can shock, even though it rises, in its own put-on style, to the same level of violence as “Parents.”

Its cast couldn’t be better, yet while the film has wit it has very little that’s outright funny. You come away with the impression that “Meet the Hollowheads” (rated an appropriate PG-13) would be more amusing--and might even mean more--on stage rather than on screen.


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