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Peep World -- Film Review

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TORONTO -- "Peep World," a comedy about a dysfunctional family of four adult siblings who remain in a serious state of arrested development, wants very much to be "The Royal Tenenbaums" when it grows up.

Trouble is, after a promisingly tart start, the strident satire stumbles and falls into a sitcom-y hole from which it never emerges, despite the game efforts of its dynamic ensemble.

Screened as a Toronto International Film Festival gala, the picture has picked up some overseas territories but has yet to nab a U.S. buyer.

Directed by Barry Blaustein (1999's "Beyond the Mat") from a script by Peter Himmelstein, the production also takes a bit of a plot cue from the 1998 Danish Dogme film "The Celebration" with its cracking portrait of a family gathered together to mark the 70th birthday of their judgmental, piece-of-work patriarch (Ron Rifkin).

Putting a major damper on the festivities is the fact that youngest sibling, Nathan (Ben Schwartz), has just published a best-selling expose called "Peep World," which has been purportedly inspired by his family's dirty little secrets.

Once we get to know the bickering Meyerwitzes, it becomes apparent young Nathan left very little to his own imagination when writing the book.

There's husband and dad-to-be, Jack (Michael C. Hall), ostensibly the responsible one, who has a chronic addiction to peep-show porn; ne'er-do-well Joel (Rainn Wilson), who is being dogged by a pair of persistent loan sharks; and sister Cheri (Sarah Silverman), a would-be actress-singer-songwriter with a Jews for Jesus boyfriend (Stephen Tobolowsky), who is in the process of suing Nathan for ruining her life.
 

To add insult to injury, her dad is dating the actress who is portraying her in the movie version, shooting just outside her apartment.

Unfortunately, the ripe setup quickly devolves into sophomoric shtick, like a painfully extended gag involving the side effects from Nathan's treatment for his erectile dysfunction. It leaves the talented cast, also including Taraji P. Henson, Judy Greer, Alicia Witt and Lesley Ann Warren, high and dry.

Only Silverman manages to find lasting comic inspiration with "Peep World's" least obnoxious character -- relatively speaking.

Venue: Toronto International Film Festival
Production: Occupant Films
Cast: Michael C. Hall, Sarah Silverman, Rainn Wilson, Ron Rifkin
Director: Barry Blaustein
Screenwriter: Peter Himmelstein
Producers: Joe Neurauter, Felipe Marino, Keith Calder
Director of photography: Tobias Datum
Production designer: Sue Chan
Music: Jeff Cardoni
Costume designer: Janicza Bravo
Editors: Steve Welch, Evan Schiff
No rating, 89 minutes
Sales agent: Hyde Park International