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DADDY COOL

WEREWOLVES IN MIDDLE AGE

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Daddy Cool, the ingenius new feature by Pittsburgh filmmaker Brady Lewis, defies classification. This much is clear: It's a darkly comic romance between a psychoanalyst werewolf and his patient, who is a woman but used to be a boy. But its slippery narrative's parodic impulses, and motifs plucked from science-fiction and horror movies, all wrapped in a film noir esthetic, make this wholly original film as playfully difficult to pin down as a tomato seed pursued with the tine of a fork.

Writer and director Lewis tells a story in Daddy Cool, but he doesn't tell it head on; "I flourish," as one of his characters puts it, "in the margins." It's a film of dream images and dream logic, a hall of mirrors with at least one untrustworthy narrator and a habit for relentlessly cross-referencing itself.

The patient is Roxanne, born as Roger and as the son of one Dr. Alter, a kiddie-TV scientist who later became a televangelist. Roxanne (Streeter Nelson) now hates Alter (John Amplas), though she still lives across the street from the house where she grew up (as a he). Lately she's begun to see her past, and her future, appear on her TV set.

The lycanthrope is Larry Talbot (Larry John Meyers), a loner who when the moon is full holes up in isolated motel rooms to wait out his lupine transformation, and snack on kittens.

Daddy Cool, shot in and around Pittsburgh, is meticulously crafted, with some gorgeously evocative imagery, and left-field passages including a startling animated-bird sequence. But its playfulness underscores a kind of middle-aged anxiety in its characters. Roxanne and Larry are neither comfortable with who they are or certain what to become next. They're both stuck in the past, with Roxanne haunted by the omnipresence of a television set that binds her to an unresolved childhood. Larry narrates his life (which is filmed in captivating black-and-white) in hard-boiled detective prose; Roxanne's voiceover is philosophical, and sometimes self-contradictory.

In its final half-hour or so, Daddy Cool itself seems to get stuck, repeating its themes more than developing them much. But Lewis' editing is smart and witty, the actors handle their strange roles well, and the film is seldom less than a cinematic treat. In two droll sequences, Lewis has characters on playing cards come to life to stoically recite passages from a personality test ("I am afraid of some kinds of animals," says a construction worker.) With Daddy Cool, Lewis himself shuffles the deck and deals out one of a kind. * * *

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