Dumbstruck

Dumbstruck is an okay documentary that suffers from poor execution of a good premise. If you’re into dummies, then by all means, check it out. But if ventriloquists creep you out, take a pass. I really wanted to like this movie, especially because I like to see TV people succeed in their attempts to break into film (the writer/director is Mark Goffman, executive producer of the USA series White Collar; plus, I spotted the name of one of my favorite Top Model editors and former co-workers, Alyssa Clark, as the credits rolled.) Heck, I’d even voted for ventriloquist Terry Fator to win America’s Got Talent a few years back – and I hardly ever vote on that stuff! So really – I wanted to like it! But the film just never came together for me.

The doc follows the journeys of five ventriloquists: Dylan, a 13-year-old “vent” whose father is less than supportive. At first, I was inclined to hate the dad – until I realized that Dylan was delusional about his skills as a ventriloquist; Kim, a former beauty queen who dreams of a career on the cruise-ship circuit; Dan, a guy who’s actually found success on cruise ships – mostly because he is talented – but may lose his marriage to his career; Terry (Fator), who shot to fame and fortune thanks to America’s Got Talent; and Wilma, a six-foot-five oddball who turns to the vent community for support when her own family keeps their distance (perhaps because she’s really weird).

The film opens and closes with scenes from the annual Vent Haven convention in Ft. Mitchell, Kentucky – the ventriloquism capital of the world! Who knew?! I suspect that Dumbstruck is trying to do for the quirky ventriloquist community what Wordplay did for crossword puzzle geeks and Mad Hot Ballroom did for young ballroom dancers. But the stories never quite track and the characters aren’t likeable enough – or talented enough (except for Terry and Dan) – to draw you in, or make you care.

It did, however, make me crave reruns of the classic television comedy Soap, which featured master ventriloquist Jay Johnson as Chuck – and his sidekick, Bob. Now that was funny stuff… (seriously).

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