September 5, 2011

With Mannequin, we have the latest variation of the Pygmalion theme; a guy gives life to an inanimate model, which in turn teaches him to be a human being.

It is to be hoped that the age-old story will never again be played out in terms as degraded as these.

The sappy premise is that a struggling young sculptor (Andrew McCarthy) creates a lovingly contoured plastic woman during his brief employment at a mannequin factory. Later, he sees this mannequin, for which he has developed an unnatural yen, in the window of a department store, and he lands a job there.

One night, while talking to his segmented pal after closing time, she comes to life (and is played by Kim Cattrall). She explains that she is the latest incarnation of an Egyptian princess who has enjoyed a series of lives through the centuries. Pygmalion enters the world of Shirley MacLaine.

It turns out she can only come alive when alone in the presence of our hero. She doesn’t offer any explanation; besides, the film would be over if they could go home happily together.

And the movie is full of such nonsensical loopholes. Michael Gottlieb is the director, and he seems to have no shred of style; every composition looks clumsy, every gag shot is held a beat too long.

He’s left his actors at sea. McCarthy, the Brat Pack member usually called upon to be the sensitive type (as in St. Elmo’s Fire), would appear to be good casting as the lonely artist, but he’s too interior-directed to bring off the later comedic scenes, and he doesn’t yet have the star quality to carry the movie on his own.

Cattrall is energetic and well sculpted, but she really has no character to play. The rest of the film is littered with stock types, including the crusty but lovable department-store owner, the swishy window dresser, the malevolent security guard, and the oily store manager. Only the latter is interesting, mainly because the actor, James Spader, is obviously off doing his own outrageous thing, a kind of super-unctuous William F. Buckley (if that’s not redundant). Spader goes too far, but at least he’s trying.

You can sense from the first five minutes that Mannequin is awkwardly assembled and stiff. Sure enough, it never does come to life. In other words, it’s one of those movies too well titled.

First published in the Herald, February 1987

Did not care for this movie. Really did not care for it. But it was a box-office hit, which tells you all kinds of things about timing and certain actors cresting at the right moment and perhaps the durability of archetypal storylines, although I really don’t want to think too hard about it. It was easy to notice Spader, who’d already made an impression in things like Tuff Turf and Pretty in Pink, and was about to break through. I have a terrible feeling there was a Starship song associated with this movie.