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Winning Girls Through Psychic Mind Control

As offbeat as its title suggests, "Winning Girls Through Psychic Mind Control" is essentially a comic two-hander for Bronson Pinchot and Ruben Santiago-Hudson, who are terrific as lounge musicians in search of a Becket play.

Devon - Bronson Pinchot Samuel - Ruben Santiago-Hudson Kathy - Amy Carlson Albert - Chris Murney

As offbeat as its title suggests, “Winning Girls Through Psychic Mind Control” is essentially a comic two-hander for Bronson Pinchot and Ruben Santiago-Hudson, who are terrific as lounge musicians in search of a Becket play. Track record of helmer Barry Alexander Brown, better known for editing most of Spike Lee’s pics, and scads of clever writing from scripting producer Dan Harnden, should help this little gem find a home, although it is probably too intimate and original to win more than a cult following.

Puerto Rican-born drummer Samuel Menendez (Santiago-Hudson) is ostensibly the more levelheaded member of the Devon Sharpe duo. His philosophy of life, that everything boils down to “sex, food, and excretion,” is certainly prosaic enough!

Intense singer-keyboardist Devon (Pinchot, barely recognizable from his tube days) is the more flighty and self-involved, and is usually fretting over his relationship with live-in g.f. Kathy (Amy Carlson). She’s also a singer, although her conviction that music might not be the best path for everyone gives Devon a lot of anxiety.

When Samuel buys a novelty tape called “Winning Girls Through Psychic Control,” it leads to unexpected effects, not many of which help in the babe department. The most notable effect of the tape is that it makes Samuel go into a trance, and in that state, “Jammers” — wise creatures apparently from a parallel universe who can see into and predict the course of human events — take over his body and multiple voices emit from him.

After his initial consternation over interrupted rehearsal time, Devon’s next instinct is to incorporate his partner’s multiple personalities into their act. Despite some reluctance on the part of their ponytailed agent Albert (Chris Murney), they stop making music and start reading audience members’ minds — although knowing who in the audience is cheating on who is fraught with its own perils.

Sequence of events is a bit tough to follow, as both play-based script and edit strategy chop time line into an oft-jumping series of flashbacks, each given a different spin by main characters in voice-over narration.

Kathy’s character and plot threads are the thinnest. Even Albert gets a turn at telling the story, while she does not. Her conflict — medicine versus music — isn’t very compelling, and the romantic aspect of saga is more fizzle than fizz. “Third Watch” star Carlson is charismatic, however, even if her presence is slightly undercut by vocal dubbing from foreign-accented (if excellent) singer Regina Spektor, who also has a bit part.

Pic’s genially manic humor basically comes down to interplay between the two male leads, and they make a good case for opposites interacting, with Pinchot’s neurotic urban striver a good foil for the necessarily more dynamic pyrotechnics of Santiago-Hudson, who makes hard lifting look easy. (NYC drummer Steve Ferrone does his musical doubling, which is convincing.)

Their badinage is never less than clever and is sometimes downright inspired in its flights of off-kilter fancy. But despite the varied club-and-motel-room settings, and an unusual amount of rich decor detail, the two-guys-talking effect does get wearing after a while.

A smart distrib might help the filmmakers take another pass at “Mind Control” for sake of rhythm and balance. In a pic about music and related obsessions, composer Adam Asarnow’s funky originals and radically retooled oldies provide apt accompaniment. Vid-to-film transfer is immaculate.

Winning Girls Through Psychic Mind Control

Production: A Cannery Filmworks (New York) production. Produced by Joel Barkow, Dan Harnden, Terry Welch. Executive producer, Sean O'Connor Dowd. Co-producer, Verane Pick. Directed by Barry Alexander Brown. Screenplay, Dan Harnden.

Crew: Camera (color-miniDV/35mm), Scott Maher; editor, K.A. Chisholm; music, Adam Asarnow, Bill Simms Jr.; production designer, Joel Barkow, Terry Welch; set decorator, Kim Wurster; costume designer, Kate Quinlan; sound (Dolby), Griffin Richardson; associate producer, Robert D. Green; assistant director, Hannah Alejandro; casting, Sue Crystal. Reviewed at Seattle Film Festival, June 9, 2002. Running time: 93 MIN.

With: Devon - Bronson Pinchot Samuel - Ruben Santiago-Hudson Kathy - Amy Carlson Albert - Chris MurneyWith: Amy Wright, Larry Clarke, Lana Quintal, Lauren Braddock, Stuart Zamsky, Kimberley Wurster, Henry Yuk, Hugh Karraker, Lucia Grillo, June Leroy, Regina Spektor.

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