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Dustin Putman

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Seed of Chucky (2004)
2 Stars

Directed by Don Mancini
Cast: Jennifer Tilly, Redman, Hannah Spearritt, John Waters, Steve Lawton, Simon James Morgan, Bethany Simons, Tony Gardner, Rebecca Santos, Stephanie Chambers; voices of Brad Dourif, Billy Boyd
2004 – 87 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for strong violence, gore, sexual content, and language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, November 12, 2004.

Taking off, and taking a page, from 1998's goofy, plastic "Bride of Chucky," "Seed of Chucky"—the fifth film in the increasingly parodying "Child's Play" series—is as self-aware and outrageous as ever. But, unlike the previous entry, which ran out of steam in the third act and left the viewer feeling kind of empty, "Seed of Chucky" is inventive, ambitious, and even perceptive enough to leave fans of the horror-comedy franchise pleasantly satisfied. It isn't high art, but it is ruthlessly likable. And, in its tricky play on reality-versus-fiction, it resembles a frothier version of "Wes Craven's New Nightmare."

When a young, orphaned doll (voiced by Billy Boyd), alive and captive at a carnival freak show in London, catches an entertainment show on television about a new horror biopic being made in Hollywood called "Chucky Goes Psycho," he finally figures out who his parents are: Good Guy dolls Chucky (voiced by Brad Dourif) and Tiffany (voiced by Jennifer Tilly). Stowing away to L.A., the doll promptly reanimates his parents through the filming movie's prop puppets and is reunited with them. Chucky, convinced his child is a boy, names him Glen, but Tiffany, insisting it's a girl, names her Glenda. Whatever the sex, it quickly becomes apparent that Glen is not the murderous psychopath Chucky and Tiffany are. So, while Chucky and Tiffany fight their homicidal urges in the name of being good parents, they plot to artificially inseminate the star of "Chucky Goes Psycho" and dead-ringer of Tiffany, Jennifer Tilly (playing herself), before transferring their souls into the actress and rapper-turned-director Redman (also portraying himself).

Written and directed by series creator Don Mancini, finally making his helming debut, "Seed of Chucky" works so well precisely because Mancini knows these characters and the intended horrific-cum-wacky tone like the back of his hand. The film is ridiculous, approaching if not embodying the most ludicrous motion picture of the year, but it makes more sense than the sound of the premise suggests. What does come as unexpectedly welcome is Mancini's knowledged view of familial dysfunction, personified in the tricky, cunning machinations between killer couple Chucky and Tiffany and their child-with-an-identity-crisis, son-daughter Glen/Glenda. Tiffany, wanting to be a positive influence on her offspring, fears she may fall off the wagon and kill again. Naturally, she ends up calling a help-line for addicts and cherishing the advice of her homicidal mentor. Tiffany also is dead-set on transferring her soul into Jennifer Tilly, whom she is a fan of and wishes to become. When the doll and frightened actress come face-to-face, Tiffany asks demurely for her autograph. Chucky, meanwhile, wants nothing more than for Glen to take up the bloody family business, and is delighted when he accidentally kills his first victim, a meddling paparazzo (John Waters). As for Chucky and Tiffany's new kid, Glen/Glenda eventually develops two personalities, the kind, soft-spoken Glen and the glamorous, deadly, Joan Crawford-like Glenda. These three's interplay, funny as it is, keeps a mostly straight face as it comes to resemble a skewed, overblown version of a family melodrama.

"Seed of Chucky" is amazingly sly and pointed in its comedic targets. A joke about Martha Stewart might be in extreme bad taste, but it is also perversely funny. So is the "Glen or Glenda" reference to Ed Wood, overt for those in the know but something that others will miss completely. Cult filmmaker John Waters (director of 2004's "A Dirty Shame") has a field day as the type of slimy, albeit personable, paparazzo seen each week on E!'s "Celebrities Uncensored." Additionally, there are shrewd jabs at a famous Jack Nicholson scene from 1980's "The Shining," and another involving 1968's "Rosemary's Baby". And when Chucky masturbates, what better to turn him on than an issue of "Fangoria" with a rotting female zombie on the cover?

As for Jennifer Tilly (2000's "The Crew"), returning as the glorious voice of Tiffany and appearing in the flesh as herself, she should receive some sort of award for "Good Sport of the Year." Tilly proves her range by playing a refreshingly non-hammy, sort of sympathetic version of herself, all the while dodging sharp jokes about her weight, her famously high-pitched voice, her sex appeal, her promiscuity, her famous lesbian scene with Gina Gershon in 1996's "Bound," and a career that has flagged since being nominated for an Academy Award ten years ago. Tilly is a natural comic actor in her voice work as Tiffany, but there is also proof of untapped dramatic potential and depth in the way she depicts actress Jennifer Tilly as a woman tired of playing second fiddle to the Julia Roberts' of the world and willing to sacrifice her self-respect in exchange for a quality movie role that might earn her the respect of others.

"Seed of Chucky" is simultaneously junky, crude, and consistently surpassing expectations. There is a flippancy for human life in some scenes, such as a climactic one with Jennifer Tilly's young assistant, Joan (Hannah Spearritt), that doesn't always sit well, even as the viewer must applaud writer-director Don Mancini for not going soft. In an age of watered-down PG-13 genre pics, "Seed of Chucky" is a hard, gleeful R—gruesome, politically incorrect, and filled with decapitations, spilled guts, blood galore, melting faces, nudity (both of the human and toy variety), sexually confused dolls, and Tilly being impregnated with a turkey baster. The film is also pretty stylish, with a sleek, unconventional music score from cult Italian composer Pino Dinaggio (who also was responsible for early Brian De Palma), and an impressively complex prologue that resembles the opening of 1978's classic "Halloween."

As a fully formed narrative, "Seed of Chucky" is undernourished and slight. Its spoofing of the Hollywood film system is not explored in a memorable way, one of the downfalls of shooting for no serviceable reason in Romania, and the story details don't always benefit to close scrutiny. One doesn't go to a movie about wisecracking killer dolls for air-tight plotting, however, and "Seed of Chucky," as far as the other offerings in the series go, is at least a few notches above the slickly mediocre "Bride of Chucky." It might even be the best since the frightening 1988 original. With new character Glen/Glenda appropriately standing out as the scene-stealer—and voiced with rapturous entertainment value by Billy Boyd (2003's "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King")—"Seed of Chucky" is winningly adept as a broad spoof posing as a family drama, and sometimes even intelligent without going for outright laughs. It's never scary—and doesn't try to be—but it sure does have a pitch-black, smile-inducing charm.
© 2004 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman