Eric D. Snider

Pumpkin

"Pumpkin" is a dark comedy that deals with diversity and tolerance in a whacked-out way. It has elements of "Bring It on" and "Heathers," and it also has handicapped people.

Carolyn McDuffy (Christina Ricci) is a popular, perky blonde at Southern California State University, and in an attempt to win Sorority of the Year, she and her sisters are doing charity work -- specifically, helping handicapped youth prepare for the upcoming "Challenged Games." (Think Special Olympics, except the Special Olympics people wouldn't let the filmmakers use their name.)

Carolyn's partnered with Pumpkin Romanoff (Hank Harris), who looks like a young Ted Koppel and is only mildly handicapped -- but handicapped enough to freak out the sheltered and wealthy Carolyn. (A scene in which we meet Carolyn's mother, played by Lisa Banes, is priceless: She is as bigoted, clueless and rich as you can imagine.)

She warms up to him, though, and is soon trying to help him make it in the real world, setting him up on dates and inviting him to social events. Her handsome athlete boyfriend Kent (Sam Ball) is jealous, but maybe he's just being shallow, you know? Maybe Pumpkin, despite being handicapped, is the one who can teach Carolyn something. And is Carolyn starting to develop romantic feelings for the kid in the wheelchair? And so on.

First-time directors Anthony Abrams and Adam Larson Broder, working from Broder's script, work like two highly intelligent goof-offs. There is creativity and amusement at every corner -- witness the falsely portentous musical score, and a ridiculous stock-footage car crash -- but a somewhat muddied approach to the material at hand. Are we supposed to get the message that the handicapped are just like the rest of us when Pumpkin's handicap is more the result of his overprotective mother than actual physical or mental impairment? What point does that make? The directors seem unsure when to finally wrap things up, too.

But it's a gleeful, occasionally morbid comedy with much to offer. Christina Ricci is not especially convincing as either a perky college girl or a blonde, but Hank Harris is fine as Pumpkin, and Brenda Blethyn steals a few scenes as his mother. They are surrounded by wonderfully offbeat minor characters, too, like Harry J. Lennix as a bitter poetry professor. A film as original and entertaining this one should not be docked too many points for its shortcomings.

Grade: B+

Rated R, frequent harsh profanity, some strong sexuality, some partial nudity

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