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The Secret Lives of Dentists (September 15/02)

The Secret Lives of Dentists, directed by Alan Rudolph and starring Campbell Scott, is just the sort of overindulgent film most people envision upon hearing the words "arthouse movie." Though it starts off well enough, with a semi-interesting story about a crumbling marriage between dentists, it soon veers into surrealistic territory and abandons any notion it had of being a realistic portrayal of this man's life.

Scott stars as David, a successful dentist with a seemingly ideal life. He's got a loving wife (Hope Davis), three small daughters, and a thriving dental practice. But everything begins to fall apart after he spots his wife making out with an unknown stranger one night, and starts to wonder if all her unexplained absences were similarly non-innocent. Making matters worse is David's apparent decent into madness, as he begins having conversations with a belligerent patient (Denis Leary). Just when David's life can't possible seem to get any worse, his entire household is hit with a bad case of the flu - which is evidently supposed to represent the rocky nature of David's marriage.

The first half hour or so of The Secret Lives of Dentists is actually fairly involving, with the introduction of David's routine yet interesting life. And as he proved in another festival flick (Roger Dodger), Scott has deftly made the transition from bland leading man to genuinely talented character actor. But as good as he is, he can't make up for the fact that this is a terrible movie. It's based upon a short story by Jane Smiley, which isn't too surprising. The film just goes on and on, as though there wasn't enough material to sustain a full-length feature.

Finally, there's the inexplicable surreal nature of the screenplay that features David repeatedly having conversations with an apparition of Leary's character. That character undoubtedly symbolizes David's dark side, but it's just such a silly way of representing that. The Secret Lives of Dentists is ultimately a pretentious mess, one that would best be served by a straight-to-video release.

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