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Columbia TriStar (DVD), ASIN B0000X2EJ2

Campbell Scott treads capably in the intimidating shoes of Steve Martin and Lawrence Olivier as a mad dentist. Released in 2002, this movie follows Marathon Man (1976), Little Shop of Horrors (1986) and Novocaine (2001) in delivering a role that must rise above a cardboard stereotype. It opens with Scott staring at x-rays that resemble the Grand Canyon. It climaxes with his ode to the "stones that live inside our heads."

dvd: the secret lives of dentists The writers of this film create dental poetry. While that motorcycle maniac Martin rips comedy from the Land of Speed Drills, this drama portrays life as a catastrophic revelation. Although Olivier convinced us that dentists may relish torturing their victims, this movie turns the tables on egocentric patients. It suggests these physicians must battle insecurity, paranoia and a social reputation little short of a pariah.

At first, it demands that we recognize the essential humanity of medical practitioners who must shop and relax just like everybody else. They possess relatives, too -- and this story centers on a family dental practice. Taking aim at equal rights for everybody to be wackier than everybody else, the film features paired obsessives. In the process, it insists that we may marry our fantasies even more than each other.

Only grand opera captures the crises and emotionalism running through their office. So, of course, the wife of the pair (Hope Davis) cannot wait to purge her lungs at her community theatre rehearsals. Unfortunately, a romantic dilemma begins the very minute their latest production closes. If her husband, on that very night, did not also see her director caressing her, the man might have retained his grasp on sanity. Alas, one opera only begets another.

The husband's imaginary buddy (Denis Leary) launches his own attack on marriage while yet another invisible villain renders domestic life chaotic. As the flu conquers one family member after another, this immune character almost steals the entire show. Doing Hawthorne's Young Goodman Brown (1972, 1993) one better, this rebellious, drunken, cigar-smoking lout looms around every corner. Every blanket rumples only to hide his sarcastic comedy.

Thus, this film takes us where psychiatrists love to tread -- deep into Wishville, where we know not what dangers can arise. Along with Scott, we realize very well that this demon cannot be real, yet there he is! Right beside him, the couple's children gag and moan for "Daddy." He critiques every meal and sex tactic. Performing heroically during an emergency, the real father cannot even compete with his personal devil in his own mind.

The depression and divorce rates of dentists reach infamous heights. The pain they relieve deserves more than equal time. The angst they suffer, as they cater to self-dramatizers, at last reaches the big screen in The Secret Lives of Dentists. Tell your favorite Emperors of the Rising Chair that you saw it. See if they risk a grin. You may even turn up for your next appointment with a rose between your teeth!

Meg Curtis

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