March 22, 2007

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Dead Silence (R)
Dummies attack! in Dead Silence, a movie that officially replaces clowns with ventriloquist dummies as the creepiest of sideshow entertainers.

Jamie (Ryan Kwanten) and his wife Lisa (Laura Regan) are enjoying a fun evening at home in their unnaturally low-lit apartment when, ring-ring, why thereís someone at the door. Who is it? Nobody, but look, hereís a giant box the size of a childís coffin. All it says is Jamieís name ó ah, heck, why not drag it in the house and open it?

Is it a cat? Is it money? Is it a Wii? Nope, itís a dummy. A size-of-a-three-year-old, sharp-featured, unpleasant-looking dummy. Hey, that reminds me of that poem about Mary Shaw, the woman who had no children only dolls and something something, aw, Iím sure itís not important, Lisa says. Jamie goes out to get Chinese food. Lisa decides to play a joke on Jamie by setting the dummy up on her bed and throwing a sheet on it to scare him. Ha ha! The jokeís on her, though ó the dummy is inhabited by some kind of evil spirit and it kills her, ripping her tongue out in the process.

Which is why you should never play a joke on your spouse.

Naturally Jamie is quite distraught when he returns home to find his wife dead and even more distraught when the detective, Jim Lipton (Donnie Wahlberg), doesnít believe his the-dummy-killed-my-wife story. But detective, he says, dummies are bad luck in my hometown. Whatever, idiot, Jim says.

Jamie is determined to find his wifeís killer so he returns to his crumbling shambles of a home town, Ravens Fair ó a name that really ought to have warned everyone that someone was bound to become a vengeance-seeking ghost. He goes to his fatherís house but finds his ailing, rich-bastard Dad (Bob Gunton) remarried to the very young and way too chipper Ella (Amber Valletta). What do you know about this whole Mary Shaw, killer dummy thing, Jamie asks his dad. I canít tell you until the third act of the movie, his dad says.

Jamie investigates the dummy angle and Mary Shaw, who he finds out was an actual crazy ventriloquist lady who was murdered horribly and buried along with all of her creepy creepy dolls. As he digs into this gruesome and campy (Mary Shaw is a bit like a full-volume, extra-makeup-wearing Miss Haversham) part of his townís history, he finds heís not alone. Dun dun DUN!

Of course youíre not alone, goofus, youíre a murder suspect, Detective Lipton reminds Jaime when he shows up in Ravens Fair, and when you left town, I followed you.

First The Messengers and now Dead Silence†ó Iím convinced they are marketing these movies all wrong. Dead Silence is hilarious. Anytime dolls kill itís funny. The whole Chucky franchise is built on that theory. Why go around selling this as a horror film? Donnie Wahlberg clearly believes itís a comedy. Liptonís every line is chuckle-inducing and Iím pretty sure most of that is intentional. Ryan Kwanten is also funny, though I think less of his performance was intended to get laughs.

The villain in this movie ó an old woman and her doll collection ó is really stacked against its being scary in any way. The music and the grainy, devoid-of-color look of the movie try hard to sell this puppy as horror but one look at the two-and-a-half-foot floppy instruments of painted wooden terror and you canít help but let out a few nose snorts or two.

Of course, laughing at dummies does not 90 minutes fill. Which is why I was surprisingly thankful for the presence of Donnie Wahlberg and his detective role ó no-nonsense, always trying to shave his five oíclock shadow. There was a twinkle in his eye, something not unlike his brother Mark when he gets ahold of a particularly showy part. Donnie Wahlbergís obvious glee at being in such a silly movie even bordered on the mischievous grin of John Travolta, though more restrained. Sort of like Bruce Willis slumming it on a sitcom for a week.

Which is all to say, get Mr. Wahlberg in a comedy. Not an obvious comedy, not a guys-kicked-in-the-nuts, pie-in-the-face kind of comedy. But something genuinely funny, with smartly written dialogue and something more for him to do with his downtime on screen than just shave his face. You know, a real comedy. Not just a horror movie that happens to be more funny than scary. C+

Rated R for horror violence and images. Directed by James Wan and written by Wan and Leigh Whannell, Dead Silence is an hour and a half long and is distributed in wide release by Universal Pictures Distribution.