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JULY 26, 1999: 

Trouble on the Corner

So you think your shrink is unresponsive? Jeff Stewart (Tony Goldwyn) spends his day listening to pedophiles, sexual compulsives, and the grief-stricken and all he can manage to offer is puppy-dog sympathy and a cup of tea. Okay, so he charges only 35 bucks a session. But the motley assortment of patients and neighbors who stream through his crumbling Manhattan apartment/office still aren't satisfied. A sterling cast of veterans (Tammy Grimes, Roger Rees, Charles Busch) play the eccentric bunch, and director Alan Madison, in his debut film, overindulges their hammy tics.

When a chunk of plaster breaks off and a hole opens in the bathroom ceiling, Doctor Jeff and wife Vivian, a nurse (Edie Falco), find their ordered life slowly unraveling. The shrink begins peeping at his sultry upstairs neighbor (Debi Mazar), a hand model who never takes off her gloves, not even in bed. Vivian -- who insists on a glass of milk, a plate of Fig Newtons, and a bath every day after work -- seems even chillier than usual. Day after day there's no escape from the nutty drone of those patients, whose most warped traits the doctor begins trying on for size.

Madison, who wrote the script, aims to cross Franz Kafka with Jules Feiffer, whose 1971 Little Murders also depicts whacked-out New Yorkers comically losing their minds. But Trouble on the Corner hits the right black tone only in its funny-creepy ending. Until then, it's uncomfortably like life in an overcrowded apartment building. The weirdness wears thin, and you just want to get away for the weekend.

-- Scott Heller

Drop Dead Gorgeous

Screenwriter Lona Williams -- a former Junior Miss first runner-up -- parlays her insider's knowledge of the beauty-pageant circuit into this scathing mockumentary about one Minnesota town's particularly cutthroat contest. What ensues, however, is more disastrous than a wedgie during the swimsuit competition.

A predictable clash of classes pits Kirsten Dunst as a perky trailer-trash tap-dancer against Denise Richards's ruthless rich bitch. Yet it's she of the Rasputin-like career -- Kirstie Alley -- as Richards's conniving, "you betcha"-spewing mother who inflicts the casting deathblow. In all, first-time director Michael Patrick Jann's satire about small-town hypocrisy and competitive overdrive is one woefully unfunny, bitterly self-loathing exercise in derivative filmmaking; everything from There's Something About Mary, Waiting for Guffman, and The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom gets plagiarized for the sake of bawdy bad taste and desperate camp. Williams, meanwhile, in denying her characters a shred of dignity, seems to have forgotten pageantry's most cherished trait: congeniality.

-- Alicia Potter

Inspector Gadget

It may not be the worst crime a filmmaker can commit -- after all, he also brought us the 1991 Vanilla Ice epic Cool As Ice -- but director David Kellogg has done a bad, bad thing to Inspector Gadget. Remember, if you can, Gadget, the middle-aged, bumbling detective -- a children's cartoon version of Maxwell Smart (Don Adams voiced the cartoon Gadget) with a helicopter propeller attached to his head. Now forget that Gadget. Here, the inspector, played by Matthew Broderick at his most boyish and squeaky clean, may be bumbling, but he doesn't begin to parody the sleuth mold. Other than the Slinkys (one of the many now mandatory product placements) stitched inside of him as part of an experiment by scientist Brenda (Joely Fisher), Broderick's Gadget could be any Disney live-action hero. He's insecure, he's a dreamer, and gosh darn, with a little willpower, a little love, and a few blows to the bad guys' private regions, he can conquer his fears and save the day. Funny thing is, this Gadget's film-ending heroics deny the central, repetitive joke of the cartoon. Gadget never solved any case -- his niece, Penny, and dog, Brain, did. On the plus side, Rupert Everett is humorously over the top as the evil Claw. Still, don't "Go, Go Gadget."

-- Mark Bazer

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