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'Paulie' easily talks his way into your heart

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Film critics are suckers for talking-animal flicks, and I'm no exception.

As a kid, I thought Francis, the talking mule, the height of cool. I saw "Doctor Dolittle" twice. And no matter what the Oscars say, I'll take "Babe" over "Braveheart" any day.

It's my pleasure to report that "Paulie," the saga of a conversational parrot who doesn't know when to shut up, is a worthy addition to the genre. You're gonna love this guy, a wisecracking, New Jersey-accented parrot with a heart of gold.

Paulie is introduced as the pet and best friend of Marie (too-cute Hallie Kate Eisenberg), a little girl with an unfortunate stutter that drives her parents to distraction. Seeing his friend's dilemma, Paulie figures he can help by learning to talk himself. He does, and it works -- perhaps too well. Marie becomes so dependent on Paulie that her parents decide the parrot has to go.

Paulie spends the rest of the film trying to be reunited with Marie. In the process, he meets up with an old woman (Gena Rowlands) who mistakenly thinks she's better off alone; an East L.A. taco seller (Cheech Marin) who attracts customers with a parrot conga line; a small-time operator (Jay Mohr, who's also the voice of Paulie); a heartless research scientist (Bruce Davison); and an immigrant janitor (Tony Shalhoub) with a welcome sense of what's right.

Director John Roberts doesn't display much in the way of flash, ** but his stolid storytelling serves "Paulie" well. Laurie Craig's script is relentlessly good-hearted (perhaps too sugary-sweet at times, but what did you expect?), but it provides Paulie with a streak of great one-liners. And it's often hard to tell the work of animatronics designer Stan Winston from that of parrot trainer Boone Narr.

"Paulie" doesn't match the overall triumph of "Babe," which remains the talking animal flick against which all others will be judged. But trust me; this parrot's gonna be a star.

'Paulie'

Starring Gena Rowlands, Jay Mohr and Bruce Davison

Directed by John Roberts

Released by DreamWorks Pictures

Rated PG (language)

Sun score: ***

Pub Date: 4/17/98

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