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movie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Paulie

Starring: Buddy Hackett, Tony Shalhoub
Director: John Roberts
Rated: PG
RunTime: 91 Minutes
Release Date: April 1998
Genres: Comedy, Family, Kids

*Also starring: Bruce Davison, Cheech Marin, Trini Alvarado, Matt Craven, Bill Cobbs, Jay Mohr, Tia Texada, Laura Harrington

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

The classic tale of a lost dog sold by a poor family, which undertakes several tortuous journeys to return to them, informs the greatest family film of all time, "Lassie Come Home" (1943, Fred M. Wilcox, director). The eponymous collie was played by the remarkable Pal in a performance that has never been surpassed by bird or beast. The recent "When the Cat's Away," Cedric Klapisch's buoyant Parisian tale of a runaway feline, does not come close. All of this means that "Paulie" has some tough competition, but since this is the conceivably the first full-length feature story about a bird, it fills a niche and does so quite well. "Paulie" has a lot going for it: some special humor that might appeal to adults; some fine animal photography (even granting that the scene of the parrot in bold flight across some imposing country scenery was shot in a wind tunnel and then superimposed against the landscape); stellar acting by the title character (granting here that it took fourteen Blue Crown Conures to fill the bill); a smashing sound track; and a lesson in scruples presented simply enough that the small fry who will make up the major audience should catch the instruction in ethics.

As Dr. Reingold (Bruce Davison), a research scientist states, there is one big gap between us human beings and our fellows in the animal kingdom: speech. Animals can speak but darned if they never learned English. Paulie, however, can make quite a dent in our understanding of those who are further down in the food chain because this parrot does not simply mimic; unlike most people, he can speak in intelligent sentences. It's no wonder that Dr. Reingold, seeing a Nobel in his future, views a great opportunity in owning the bird and that other folks see Paulie not as a creature with his own integrity but as one who can enrich them as well. As is conventional in so many movies made principally for children, the little ones perceive the feathered and four-legged creations selflessly.

The story opens as five-year-old Marie (Hallie Eisenberg), a stutterer who is without friends because of her speech impediment, is given a young bird by her family in the hope that it can take their girl out of her shell. When Marie climbs on her roof with Paulie and suffers an almost tragic fall to the ground, her father gives away the parrot to a pawn shop, whose owner (Buddy Hackett) sees a talking bird only as an aggravation. Though Benny (Jay Mohr) sees him as a potential assistant for his career as a petty thief, Paulie is bought by the aging Ivy (Gena Rowlands), who is sympathetic to Paulie's desire to be reunited with Marie and drives him most of the way to Marie's new home in Los Angeles. Before arriving, Paulie is found by Ignacio (Cheech Marin), who uses him for a dance act until he is acquired by Dr. Reingold, who wants the bird to perform for a group of scientists. The entire story is told by Paulie to a janitor, Russian immigrant Misha (Tony Shalhoub), who unknowingly is really listening to the verbosity of Jay Mohr in the role of Paulie's voice.

Well over one-third of American families own dogs, and so presumably a movie about a dog ("Beethoven," "Shiloh" and the like) would have a good chance of capturing a large, youthful audience. Relatively few families own parrots, so that this one could be a tough sell at the box office. More's the pity, though, if a lack of familiarity with these lovely animals would keep families away. "Paulie" is a touching tale featuring some choice wisecracks actually spoken by Saturday Night Live veteran Jay Mohr as Benny who, when appearing with Paulie on the screen, is in fact talking to himself! When Benny's girl friend asks the parrot whether her "diamond" is real, Paulie, who cannot lie, says, "I've seen shot glasses cut better than that." When Bennie drives Paulie in his convertible to a scenic view of L.A., Paulie quips, "You're not gonna kiss me, are you?"

There are some painful lessons that should come across to those in the audience who are under the age twelve and might be convinced more readily than adults that shearing part of a bird's wings to prevent him from flying is just plain wrong: "They were cutting me," Paulie says of the lab technicians, "They were taking away the one thing that made me different from them." Paulie offers some excellent advice to the small fry who may be too shy to get their feelings across to those who love them, "Don't be afraid to speak up," he says, though ironically at times Paulie keeps quiet because he insists that talking "gets you in trouble."

Bruce Davison plays a nuanced role as a villain with more than a trace of humanity, Tony Shalhoub a poignant guise as a immigrant who assures Paulie "I'm Russian: I like long stories," Gena Rowlands does a trenchant turn as a sensitive lady who ultimately uses the bird as a seeing-eye companion, and Trini Alvarado is the grown-up woman who has awaited Paulie's return for years. Given the merits of the production, which is debut-directed by John Roberts from a script by Laurie Craig, this bird deserves to fly.

Copyright 1998 Harvey Karten

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