Rated PG, 87 min. Directed by John Roberts. Starring Gena Rowlands, Tony Shalhoub, Cheech Marin, Bruce Davidson, Jay Mohr, Trini Alvarado, Buddy Hackett, Hallie Kate Eisenberg, Matt Craven.
There's something vaguely disturbing about Paulie. Is it Jay Mohr's double-billing, as both con artist Benny and the voice of Paulie, the speechified parrot of the title? Well, yes. Perhaps it's utterly subjective on my part, but for the life of me I'll never be able to separate the comedically talented Mohr from his vocal coup de grace, which is to say his alarmingly spot-on impersonation of Christopher Walken. Seriously folks, Rich Little has nothing on the younger Mohr, who mimics Walken's turns in The King of New York and True Romance verbatim without a touch of schtick. Anyone who saw his pas de deux avec Walken on Saturday Night Live (or even Late Night With David Letterman) knows what I mean. The phrase “separated at birth” comes readily to mind when discussing the pair, though hopefully not for long. That personal quibble aside, it should be noted that -- first and foremost -- Paulie is a kids film, one of the first in what appears to be a burgeoning sub-genre within the fledgling DreamWorks SKG. A quick review: DSKG's first film, The Peacemaker, was an adolescent boy's fantasy of post-Cold War nuclear hi-jinks; their second -- the clever Mouse Hunt -- was a Grimm fairy tale by way of D-Con and Roald Dahl; and this newest -- Paulie -- is a heartworming tale of love, loss, and redemption, all seen from a parrot's point of view. Not a bad track record for what appears to be more or less a Nineties updating of Chaplin and Pickford's early-version United Artists Studios. Still, Paulie falls flat in its labored plotting and heavy-handed morality. It puts one in mind of Disney's mid-Sixties live-action farces, but minus Kurt Russell's nascent charm. When janitor Mischa (Shalhoub) takes a job at an unnamed university animal lab, he encounters a conversational parrot who proceeds to tell him his life story, involving, among other travails, his separation from young Marie (Eisenberg), whose speech impediment he hopes to help. When her family moves from New Jersey to California, Paulie must conquer his fear of flying (sans Erica Jong) and track down his one true friend -- often in the face of bitter enemies. Yes, it's a metaphor for growing up, taking responsibility for one's actions, and so on, but surprisingly, director Roberts gives it all an even keel. The youngish audience I saw the film with seemed to hold rapt attention on Paulie's plight despite the frequent wooden one-liners. Mohr, for his part, thankfully holds off in his Walkenesque abilities, and instead turns in a moderately moral-inducing vocal performance that touches on everything from self-reliance to the importance of being, ah, “earnest.” Hardly perfect by anyone's standards, Paulie is instead a convenient, unprepossessing time-waster for Saturday afternoon kiddies. Adults may choose to take an extended popcorn break every now and then, but everyone under 13 seemed to be having a ball.
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