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Mail Order Wife

<I>Enfants terribles</I> Huck Botko, whose calling card was a series of "dessertumentaries" about poisoning members of his immediate family, and Andrew Gurland, responsible for the infamous ersatz docu "Frat House," have joined forces to beat up on the non-fiction genre again in "Mail Order Wife."

With:
With: Adrian Martinez, Eugenia Yuan, Andrew Gurland, Deborah Teng, Jose Canesco.

Corrections were made to this review on Nov. 5, 2004.

Enfants terribles Huck Botko, whose calling card was a series of “dessertumentaries” about poisoning members of his immediate family, and Andrew Gurland, responsible for the infamous ersatz docu “Frat House,” have joined forces to beat up on the non-fiction genre again in “Mail Order Wife.” This black comedy on the making of a docu about mail-order wives finally breaks down under the weight of its twists and turns, but mostly maintains a creepy fascination with its scuzzy characters. Skedded for February 2005 release, pic could find a cult following.

Docu director Andrew (played by Gurland himself) is making a movie about Adrian (Adrian Martinez), a chubby doorman from Queens and his quest for a mail-order bride. Adrian’s charm (or lack there of) is such that the question of why he is seeking a wife in this fashion seems redundant.

Choosing from the Paradise Girls Intl. catalog, Adrian picks the demure-looking Burmese girl Lichi (Eugenia Yuan of “Charlotte Sometimes”). They exchange letters, in which his El Dorado and his “security property management” job play prominent parts. Before Lichi arrives, the camera “indirectly” captures Andrew paying the bridal fees for Adrian in exchange for the rights to film the new couple.

Adrian and Lichi are hitched and Lichi is put to work as an unglorified servant in Adrian’s house, given lessons in chili preparation and detailed instructions on how to clean the toilet and feed live rats to the resident albino python.

But a visit to a doctor’s office that has not been discussed to have her tubes tied proves the final straw for Lichi. She leaves Adrian and is soon installed as a guest in Andrew’s luxury apartment while he tries to find her employment.

Andrew and his girlfriend sponsor Lichi’s training as an Asian chef. They dine on her experiments and heap her with praise, until her hysterical refusal to serve dessert at a trial dinner reveals that the “desserts” Andrew had been partaking of were not on any menu.

Botko and Gurland get lots of mileage from the banal unlikability and casual venality of their characters’ exchanges. Even Lichi turns out to be different than advertised. And pic’s parody of a modern documentary is dead-on, particularly in its penchant for turning exposes into personal diaries in a quest to explode the myth of objectivity. But a muddled revenge plot that reunites Adrian and Andrew in Miami turns campy and unfocussed, ending pic more sloppily than intended.

Tech credits are suitably grungy.

Mail Order Wife

Production: A First Independent Pictures, Dada Films release of a Cherry Road Films, Double Edge Entertainment presentation of a Hypnotic production. Produced by Avram Ludwig, Kendall Morgan, Andrew Weiner, Nina Yang. Executive producers, Gary Rubin, David Bartis, Doug Liman, Bo Hyde, Bobby Sheng. Directed, written by Huck Botko, Andrew Gurland.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen HD-to-35mm), Luke Geissbuhler; editor, Kevin Napier; music supervisor, Mark Wike; production designer, Jon Nissenbaum; costume designer, Jennifer Galvelis; sound (Dolby), Chen Harpaz; casting, Lori Eastside. Reviewed at Hamptons Film Festival (World Cinema), Oct. 23, 2004. Running time: 91 MIN.

With: With: Adrian Martinez, Eugenia Yuan, Andrew Gurland, Deborah Teng, Jose Canesco.

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