When Mannequin is at its best, it makes one forget about its worst. There’s a lot of weak writing–and some strong writing–and director Gottlieb is terrible with actors. What’s so strange about his inability to direct them (most visible with Carole Davis) is how well other performances turn out. Both James Spader and G.W. Bailey are playing, at best, thinly written buffoon roles, but both of them are entirely committed and it leads to some successes.
The film gets off to a rocky start–after a nice animated opening credits sequence–because Gottlieb can’t find his narrative distance. Lead Andrew McCarthy often seems like he’s waiting for some kind of direction, not getting any, then proceeding ahead. Without Gottlieb getting any better, the film gets comfortable pretty soon after Kim Cattrall reappears–she’s McCarthy’s mannequin (who only he can see).
Like Mannequin needs any explanation.
There are a number of montages, which are usually successful thanks to Tim Suhrstedt’s photography and Sylvester Levay’s music. It helps McCarthy and Cattrall are, if not actually having fun, giving the impression of it. The film never finds a tone, which doesn’t help the actors, but they muddle through. Gottlieb seems like he wants it to be realistic, but it’s absurd in concept and his execution.
Estelle Getty also suffers from Gottlieb’s direction, but she’s still likable. Meshach Taylor starts as a caricature but soon becomes a reliable sidekick to McCarthy.
The leads’ chemistry and sincerity–and Levay’s music–carry the picture.