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Film review

'Candy' isn't so dandy

By STEVE PERSALL, Times Film Critic
Published July 20, 2006

Strangers with Candy (R) (85 min.) - The fine line between stupid and clever is obliterated in this prequel to a canceled Comedy Central series that somehow keeps being referred to as a cult classic. If this is a cult, I'd rather drink the Kool-Aid.

Strangers with Candy reintroduces us to Jerri Blank (Amy Sedaris), although she would be impossible to forget, and not for many good reasons. Jerri is an oversexed 47-year-old crack addict and parolee who decides to begin her life anew by attending high school. She has the proper level of maturity to fit in, but her leering remarks to coeds and shocking candor about jail time make her an outcast.

Jerri isn't pretty; actually she's quite far from that, with a gruesome overbite, misshapen physique, sagging scowl and trashy makeup.

Director Paul Dinello shapes Jerri's situation like an after-school TV movie drowned in irony. The positive aspects of such teen-angst entertainment are trashed, while the pitfalls of adolescence are grossly exaggerated. Dinello co-wrote the screenplay with Sedaris and co-star Stephen Colbert, same as the television series, so whatever you thought about Strangers with Candy in that format isn't likely to change.

There is very little plot, mostly a series of freely associated ideas that usually last longer than they should. Jerri's high school principal (Greg Hollimon) must replace school funds he skimmed to pay gambling debts. His absurd plan is to make a fortune by winning the regional science fair. That becomes a loose framework for a series of encounters with teachers of varying low intelligence and morals, students treating Jerri like dirt and Jerri responding in kind.

The lack of comic steam is sad, considering that Sedaris immerses herself in this one-note role with more sincerity than many actors would. Her facial contortions alone - she's actually a lovely woman - are the sign of an intricately constructed performance. Colbert is a funny guy doing almost anything, but even his deadpan superiority eventually grows stale under these conditions.

What is amazing about Strangers with Candy is the roster of stars who apparently loved the TV series enough to accept brief roles. Oscar winner Philip Seymour Hoffman and Emmy winner Allison Janney play school board members, Sarah Jessica Parker shows up as a crisis counselor with a tip jar, Ian Holm as a family physician, and Matthew Broderick sticks around longest as a flashy science fair coordinator. They must see something promising in this material, but what? D

- STEVE PERSALL, Times film critic

[Last modified July 19, 2006, 17:47:54]

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