- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 6, 2006

On paper, “Strangers with Candy” should never have made it all the way to the big screen.

The former Comedy Central series has no big stars and spoofs a near-forgotten genre: the treacly after-school special, that went the way of leg warmers. And let’s not forget that the series scattered just 30 episodes over three short seasons.

But cult followings are hard to shake, a key reason why “Candy” earned its big screen engagement.

The results are akin to an absurdly funny hourlong special — with a stale 25 minutes tacked on to justify the ticket price.

Star/co-creator Amy Sedaris returns as Jerri Blank, the burned out ex-con who decides to go back to high school in the hopes of starting a new life for herself.

You’d think a 46-year-old would stick out in the classroom, but it’s part of “Candy’s” nutty logic that no one bats an eye at her crow’s feet and silver-streaked hair.

The movie version is a prequel, of sorts, telling us why Jerri enrolled in school in the first — or rather second — place.

Fresh from prison, she learns her father (Dan Hedaya) has fallen into a stress-induced coma and his doctor (Ian Holm) suggests some good news from Jerri might snap him out of it.

Since her life took the first of many wrong turns during her teen years, she decides to re-enroll in high school to make things right — and, hopefully, coax her father to face life again.

Yet Jerri’s almost alma mater is embroiled in its own troubles, including a funding scandal that’s driving principal Blackman (Greg Hollimon) to drink in the school’s wet lounge.

Jerri’s teachers are nearly as neurotic as she is. Mr. Noblet (returning “Candy” regular and co-writer Stephen Colbert) is pining for a fellow teacher and hasn’t got time for such nonsense as teaching the three “Rs.”

Meanwhile, Jerri is reaching out, often lasciviously, to her fellow students to help her win the upcoming science fair.

“Candy” features more high-profile cameos than a season’s worth of “Will & Grace.” Allison Janney, Oscar-winner Philip Seymour Hoffman, Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick all drop by for a scoop of indie cred, with only Miss Parker wrangling laughs as an insensitive grief counselor with a tip jar.

Still, Miss Sedaris’ Jerri remains the main reason to swallow this bittersweet “Candy.” Her character can demean an admirer one moment, then revert into a wounded woman-child the next.

“Am I pretty?” she asks a fellow student, her face contorted into a comically distorted plea for affection.

There’s nothing pretty about either Jerri or the big-screen “Candy.” It’s dimly shot, occasionally ugly in its humor and utterly without life lessons.

Yet embracing the seamier side of high school brings out the best in Miss Sedaris, if not the irrepressible Jerri.

**1/2

TITLE: “Strangers with Candy”

RATING: R (Adult language, drug references, comic violence and vulgar sexual humor)

CREDITS: Directed by Paul Dinello. Written by Mr. Dinello, Stephen Colbert and Amy Sedaris.

RUNNING TIME: 87 minutes

WEB SITE: https://strangerswithcandymovie.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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