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Originally published Friday, January 6, 2006 at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

"Dear Wendy" fires blanks

If Jamie Bell can't rescue a movie, it's probably not salvageable. After his thrilling debut in "Billy Elliot" — and after making...

Special to The Seattle Times

If Jamie Bell can't rescue a movie, it's probably not salvageable. After his thrilling debut in "Billy Elliot" — and after making "Nicholas Nickleby," "Undertow" and "The Chumscrubber" all watchable to varying degrees — Bell meets his Waterloo in the empty, obnoxious "Dear Wendy."

At least the premise has promise. Bell plays Dickie, a nearly friendless pacifist, seemingly condemned to a pointless existence in a Southern mining town, who becomes fascinated with guns. Dickie, who is also the film's narrator, longingly addresses his favorite gun as "Dear Wendy." He quickly acquires a following among the town's losers, who gain confidence by waving their own guns around.

Dickie's lost boys, who call themselves the Dandies, include his maid's murderous grandson (Danso Gordon), a shy co-worker (Mark Webber) and an adolescent ladies' man (Chris Owen, the science geek from "October Sky"). Also part of the gang is a seemingly fearless girl (Alison Pill) who sold Dickie his first gun. Incredibly, the local sheriff (Bill Pullman) asks Dickie to become a parole officer because he's so obviously "a good guy."

Movie review 1.5 stars

Showtimes and trailer

"Dear Wendy," with Jamie Bell, Bill Pullman, Danso Gordon. Directed by Thomas Vinterberg, from a screenplay by Lars von Trier. 104 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences (includes violence, rough language). Grand Illusion.

Screenwriter Lars von Trier ("Dogville," "Breaking the Waves") fails to justify this bizarre turn of events. He also forgets to give the young actors any characters to play; once their eccentricities are established, there's no room for them to grow. The director, Thomas Vinterberg ("The Celebration"), does little but dote on their foolishness.

"The Battle Hymn of the Republic" turns up again and again on the soundtrack, softly at first but then with a volume that becomes stupefyingly sarcastic. In a lengthy, violent sequence that could have been lifted from "Three Kings" (an infinitely better movie), the cameras follow bullets as they puncture bodies and destroy vital organs.

"Dear Wendy" sometimes suggests an English-language Danish attempt to deal with American gun culture and the Columbine killings, but what it has to say could be summarized in a bumper sticker ("Pacifists shouldn't own guns").

Without demonstrating even minimal interest in how these youngsters bond and reach their point of no return, it builds to a shootout so ludicrous that it recalls the campy "Bugsy Malone" and its cast of machine-gun-toting 12-year-olds.

John Hartl:

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