Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Parrothood

By Noah Masterson

APRIL 27, 1998:  The ubiquitous trend of using computer animation to make animals speak should have been put to bed long ago. Today we're faced with talking chimps pitching HBO and yammering pigs headlining major motion pictures. In 10 years, it will all look as dated as parachute pants. Add this to the fact that the titular character in Paulie is a parrot--an animal not known for its humanlike facial expressions--and you could easily figure that this latest movie from Steven Spielberg's DreamWorks studio is dead in the water. But you would be wrong.

Like Babe, the 1995 talking pig movie, Paulie succeeds in spite of itself.

The story begins with Misha (Tony Shalhoub of Big Night), a Russian immigrant who takes a job as a janitor at a medical research facility. In the basement, he discovers a scruffy little parrot singing Burt Bacharach tunes. The two develop a rapport, and Paulie tells Misha about his life. It's a long story, but as Misha says, "I'm Russian--I love long stories!"

In flashback, Paulie is separated from his original owner, Marie (Hallie Kate Eisenberg), a little girl who, ironically, has a speech impediment. In his cross-country quest to return to Marie, Paulie encounters Ivy (Gena Rowlands), a lonely widow with a Winnebago, Ignacio (Cheech Marin), a taco vendor who moonlights in a mariachi band and petty thief Benny (Jay Mohr, the bad guy in Jerry Maguire and also the voice of Paulie). Along the way, Paulie learns a lot about friendship, love and honesty. He also learns that sometimes it's best to keep his big mouth shut. In the end, he is a more fully realized character than those played by human actors in most other movies.

Paulie, amazingly enough, works on nearly every level. The script has plenty of twists and never delves too deep into sentimentality. The acting is first rate, too. Five-year-old Hallie Kate Eisenberg, in her professional debut, is charming as the stuttering little girl. (She doesn't really stutter, either.) Cheech Marin goes back to his Born in East L.A. roots as the taco vendor in, you guessed it, East L.A., but he puts his heart into the role and proves he can act. Veterans Gena Rowlands and Buddy Hackett, meanwhile, add class to an already classy flick.

Kids who see Paulie will be entertained, but they may not be overly enthused. At a recent screening, kids watched patiently, amused by the talking bird. But it was the grownups who got the jokes and ultimately enjoyed the movie most. The ending is a tad predictable, but it doesn't matter; the trip there is all the fun you need. Whether you bring the kids, bring a date or go alone, you won't be sorry. Paulie is a sweet, irresistible movie--talking bird and all.

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