- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 6, 2005

“Dear Wendy” continues the anti-American flailings of Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier. Mr. von Trier seems to have been short of stamina after completing an epic monstrosity, the simultaneously spiteful and long-winded “Dogville.” He entrusted the “Dear Wendy” scenario to a younger colleague, Thomas Vinterberg, who may have lightened it up a bit while developing a measure of rapport with a predominantly young cast.

One gathers that the plot outline and the denouement remained intact. As a result, whatever enhancements Mr. Vinterberg might have added, he’s still at the mercy of a fatalistic, dogmatic conception that staggers toward a gratuitously violent finale, a pitched gun battle that plays ludicrously.

Only a humane rewrite could improve the material. The characters need to be reprieved from a death sentence that seems outrageous. It reflects the author’s addiction to hollow political gestures — specifically, fables in which Americans are spotlighted as oblivious wretches and rhetorical road kill.

“Dogville,” the most godforsaken of the Nicole Kidman duds of 2004, was enacted entirely on a studio stage, diagrammed to represent Main Street in a remote, nightmarish Western town. The residents gradually revealed their depravity by abusing a pretty fugitive.

There are no unwitting outsiders in “Dear Wendy,” an English-language production utilizing back-lot sets or abandoned factory space in Denmark and Germany. The ostensible location is a vaguely southeastern mining town called Estherslope. Once again, there’s an overly schematic main street, but at least it’s simulated outdoors. While everything looks ostentatiously faded and dilapidated, there’s a fresh-air dimension that was deliberately excluded from “Dogville.”

Despite the presence of a working mine, we’re meant to get the impression of an impoverished, underpopulated town. A small group of young people with time on their hands starts a gun club, meeting in unused chambers of a mine and attempting to reconcile pacifistic ideals with avid target practice and foppish affectations. The club’s founder, Dick (Jamie Bell), settles on the nickname Dandies. Much of his initial information about firearms comes from a diffident, mechanically adept friend named Stevie, very cleverly played by Mark Webber.

At first Dick doesn’t even realize that the toy gun he has acquired in a secondhand store is actually a weapon, a small-caliber revolver without a trigger guard. Naming weapons becomes one of the club’s quirks. Dick accepts Stevie’s possibly mischievous suggestion that Wendy would be the ideal nickname for his little gun. The title derives from a farewell letter addressed to Wendy the weapon, which remains close to Dick’s heart despite an attraction to a friend named Susan (Alison Pill), who favors a pair of six-shooters nicknamed Lee and Grant.

There are latent comic and even ominous possibilities in the setup. Once the Dandies begin growing self-conscious and defensive about their gun culture and gun prowess, rivalries percolate and might be legitimate sources of trouble. It’s a pity no one took the initiative to steer the pretext in a direction that made sense, once the club was a going concern and the members had a vested interest in its notions of pride and loyalty.

In a similar respect, audiences might have felt an emotional stake in the youngsters’ strivings and blunders. Mr. Vinterberg appears to have recognized the advantages of creating an offbeat acting ensemble. Unfortunately, he hasn’t found a way around Mr. von Trier’s desire to get everyone in the neck.

*1/2

TITLE: “Dear Wendy”

RATING: No MPAA rating (adult subject matter, with occasional profanity and graphic violence; fleeting nudity and sexual allusions)

CREDITS: Directed by Thomas Vinterberg. Screenplay by Lars von Trier. Cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle.

RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes

WEBSITE:www.wellspring.com/movies

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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