Mannequin (1987) / Comedy-Fantasy

MPAA Rated: PG for some violence, sensuality and language
Running time: 90 min

Cast: Andrew McCarthy, Kim Cattrall, Meshach Taylor, James Spader, Estelle Getty, G.W. Bailey, Carole Davis, Steve Vinovich, Christopher Maher
Director: Michael Gottlieb

Screenplay: Michael Gottlieb, Edward Rugoff
Review published August 10, 2008

Although no doubt green-lit due to popular romantic comedy fantasies like Splash, Mannequin comes closest to resembling a semi-remake of Xanadu if its makers thought that the 1980 roller disco musical needed less songs and more bubblegum romance (if that's possible)Here we have the same wayward career guy, a magical "muse" who helps him find his hidden art, a dilapidated business that gets a little pizzazz through her magic, art deco design styles, slickly styled segues, and a romance between a normal man and woman of magic that seems doomed by her extraordinary nature.  Both films are non-credited remakes of Hollywood films of the late 1940s (Mannequin lifts the basic plot from 1948's One Touch of Venus)While I'm one of a select number of critics who champion Xanadu as an infectiously entertaining musical that failed to find an audience at the time of its release, I'm firmly with the majority of film critics who view Mannequin as a terrible movie that mystifyingly became a lucrative hit with the general public, especially on video.

Andrew McCarthy (The Spiderwick Chronicles, Pretty in Pink) stars as Jonathan Switcher, a well-meaning but unlucky guy who keeps losing jobs because he just so happens to have a screw loose, lost in a romanticized world of wanting to be an artist even when the job doesn't call for it.  Luck finally comes his way when he impresses the owner of a struggling fancy department store (Getty, Stop or My Mom Will Shoot), enough for her to give him a job on the bottom as the stock boy.  Soon after, he meets 'Emmy" (Cattrall, Big Trouble in Little China), a mannequin possessed by the essence of a woman of Ancient Egyptian origin, and who immediately takes a liking to the only man who can see her in flesh-and-blood form, Jonathan.  The two engage in a romance that sees her helping with the very artistic mannequin displays in the store windows, which draw in the crowds and makes the store a sensation once again.  Unfortunately for them, a rival department store isn't liking the decrease in business in their own stores, so they seek to "out" the man who is having an affair by what they see as a wooden mannequin. 

Although a fantasy through and through, where Mannequin ultimately fails as a lasting piece of entertainment is its inability to transcend its story to be anything out of the ordinary on its own.  Predictability is the major detraction, as practically everything you see in the film is what you expect from the moment the premise is laid out. Cattrall has her trademark sex appeal going for her, which certainly helps in the gratuitous eye candy that accompanies her frequent wardrobe changes, but outside of this the role isn't much of a challenge.  Emmy's only role in life is to be any lonely guy's fantasy, merely existing for the pleasure of her man, delivering kisses when he wants, companionship when he needs, and fulfillment of any other urges that may arise.  Despite its male-oriented premise, female audiences were the ones who readily ate this one up, despite its limiting the role of the female protagonist to sex object, while the other contender for Jonathan's heart, his girlfriend Roxie (Davis, If Looks Could Kill), is the object of constant sexual harassment at nearly every turn.  I would gather that being released on Valentine's Day weekend in 1987 made it the date movie of choice for many.

McCarhy enjoyed some popularity in the mid-to-late-1980s, but while some may find him attractive and interesting enough as an actor to find watchable, this is the kind of material that doesn't suit him well.  His inability to seem like a typical "Joe Shmoe" makes him come across as rather psychotic, and even if we believe that none of what's happening is his fervent imagination, we still get the feeling that he probably needs some sort of adjustment to get him to mesh with the real world himself.  You can add James Spader (Sex Lies and Videotape, The Rachel Papers) to the miscast list, as he labors to act comical in his role as one of the heavies, with a geeky hairstyle and weird mannerisms -- he isn't funny.  It would be the second of three consecutive films McCarthy and Spader would star in together (Pretty in Pink and Less Than Zero are the others).  Some laughs might be had with Meshach Taylor's ("Designing Women", Class Act) role as the benevolently flamboyant gay coworker, Hollywood Montrose, but he gets entirely too much screen time for a role that ends up rather useless to the main plot at large. 

Mannequin would go on to make its small budget back many times over, and even earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Song, for Starship's "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now".  You can add having to hear that song again to the list of reasons why one shouldn't bother sticking around to the end credits.  Unless you're nostalgic for the cheesiest of the cheesy 1980s, you probably would do well to avoid even the opening credits of this momentary lapse of judgment on the part of movie-going audiences in early 1987.

-- Followed by Mannequin 2: On the Move (1991).

 Qwipster's rating:

©2008 Vince Leo