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THE SECRET LIVES OF DENTISTS

With the rest of the movie world heading the way of theme parks, comic books, video games, and CGI, leave it to maverick director Alan Rudolph to return us to something as basic as teeth. Too bad The Secret Lives of Dentists has so little bite. Blame that in part on Jane Smileyís lugubriously precious novella The Age of Grief, on which the movie is based. This sometimes bright but mostly belabored adaptation seeks the magic and the poetry in the commonplace lives of a married pair of dentists, David (Campbell Scott, chastened after Roger Dodger) and Dana (perennial harpy Hope Davis), and their three bratty daughters. Such banalities as the flu and infidelity assail them, bringing the terminally wistful David to murmur such Smiley-ese voiceover reflections as "teeth, two little rows of stones in the landscape of the flesh, but as sensitive, in their way, as fingertips or lips."

Maybe so, but I think most viewers will prefer the attitude of Davidís patient Mr. Slater (Denis Leary), who addresses David as "Dr. Mengele" and regards his profession, and everything else, with hilarious cynicism. Leary takes over the movie when his character becomes an imaginary projection of Davidís sullen hostility, a refreshing alter ego acting out Davidís, and Rudolphís, resistance to the taleís studied triviality. Itís a funny concept, but the one joke wears thin long before the end. At least at the dentistís office, you have the option of nitrous oxide. (104 minutes)


Issue Date: August 8 - August 14, 2003
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