The Gingerbread Man (1998) Poster

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sol12186 February 2004
******SPOILERS****** Film Noir type movie set in Savannah Georgia that tries hard to stay afloat but it's waterlogged plot sinks it in the last fifteen minutes.

"The Gingerbread Man" is not at all a boring or bad movie it really holds your attention and you want it to deliver the goods via a surprise and film noir like ending. The movie like "Hurricane Geraldo" that lashes the Georgian coast during the entire film instead just sinks under it's wind swept waves.

"Gingerbread Man" has all the right ingredients for a film noir classic. It's directed by legendary director Robert Altman but it's story gets so muddled and confused that by the end instead of packing a wallop it just fizzles out like a balloon with a hole in it.

The chance meeting and later relationship between Rick Magruder, Kenneth Branagh, and Mallory Doss, Embeth Davidtz, at the start of the film is incredibly unconvincing and contrived that you can easily sense that Rick is being set up to be used for some unknown purpose. You can see Mallory constantly staring and trying to get close to Rick at the party before they meet outside in the rain.

Mollary's crazy and religious father Dixon Doss, Robert Duvall, who is being manipulated to be the villain in the film also doesn't seem at all that convincing of a being a heavy. If anything Dixon seems to be more normal then most of the people in the movie, like he so perfectly made clear to the court at his sanity hearing. And it doesn't surprise anyone that he like Rick is being set up for some reason known only by the villain or villains in the film.

Kenneth Branagh is very good as the person who's being used to unwittingly do the dirty work to clear the way for a 10-15 million dollar grab of fifteen acres of valuable black walnut trees. So is Robert Duvall as the person who they belong to and are the main reason for the crimes being committed in the film.

Besides the top stars in the movie there are also very good performances by Tom Berenger, Pete Randel, as Mallory's ex-husband and Famke Janssen, Leeanne, as Rick's ex-wife as well as Daryl Hannah, Louis Harlan, as Rick's law partner. Robert Downey Jr.,Clyde Pell, sparkles is a small but important role as the detective that works for Rick's law office. Still the illogical and contrived ending in the movie as well as some of the sub-plots that lead to it wastes their efforts and spoils what could have been a very good crime/mystery film.
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Appalling waste of talent in dim flick
Philby-320 April 2003
It takes real talent to make a real lemon, and Robert Altman, a most talented director, has succeeded brilliantly here. He made things difficult for himself miscasting Kenneth Branagh as a boozy Savannah lawyer but the attempt to replicate the feel of a town in the grip of a hurricane really finishes things off. The last 20 minutes in the rain is truly appalling, with the audience reduced to guessing about what is going on. The lighting is awful throughout, the more so that it was done on purpose. Maybe we were supposed to experience the confusion of the lead character as he stumbled towards an answer but this does not make for entertainment. In this film noir genre to achieve tension at crucial moments the audience must know just a little more than the protagonist, not a lot less.

The story, though completely derivative, is actually quite tight, well plotted, and has a convincing resolution, but the lack of light and general confusion make it difficult to follow. Anyway, an absolute shocker, gross waste of talent and apparently a box office flop (there's some justice). Altman has since put this turkey behind him with the luminous Gosford Park but I am left wondering why on earth he did it.
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A well-made, very underrated film
Verbal-176 February 1999
With this movie, it's all about style, atmosphere, and acting. True, I didn't believe all of the plot developments, but it didn't matter- the terrific acting, the unexpected plot twists, and the wonderful atmosphere sucked me right in, and carried me along for the ride, and I had a great time. Kenneth Branagh is not only a great actor but a master of accents, and he proves it once again with a flawless Georgia accent. He's surrounded by so much talent in supporting roles (Robert Downey, Jr., Embeth Davidtz from Schindler's List and Fallen, Tom Berenger, Daryl Hannah, and Robert Duvall) that I was simply blown away. I recently bought a copy of this movie, and I never tire of watching it. Simply one of the best thrillers of the year. If you've ignored this movie (and chances are you have), then I suggest you check it out.
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Well-made, but thrill-less thriller
shadowflame19 August 2001
The promising first half-hour is let down by the failure to develop the characters and thus waste a great cast. Downey Jnr is a fantastic actor but is given very little to work with, same goes for Hannah, Berenger and Janssen (who seems to have no purpose in the film whatsoever). Davidtz would've been great if her character had grown, but instead all she got to do was mope around for the whole movie. Majority of the bog-standard material here is given to Branagh, and although he is by no means poor, he just does not get the viewer involved in his battle.

The direction, for me, was the film's only virtue. Altman creates a wonderfully dark and intriguing atmosphere, it's just a shame neither the story nor the undercooked characters are equally dark and intriguing.

With more complex characters, more of Downey Jnr and Jansenn, and more explosive dialogue, I could've easily overlooked and forgiven the silly plot turns and contrivances, but sadly they stick out like a sore thumb.

Disappointing sub-noir thriller. 4/10
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Good dark suspense
wardoktor26 November 2003
I don't understand the low 5.7 rating on this film. It's a delight for people who like a strong suspense plot and dark atmospherics. The tone is reminiscent of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, down to the locale (Savannah). The acting is strong, and I was amazed at the verisimilitude of Kenneth Branagh's southern accent. Famke Jansen is great, Robert Duval is effective in a small part, and Embeth Davitz is the BOMB. Great full nude scene of her,too.

The plot is fairly standard but effectively executed.
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Altman's strong suit usually isn't plot, and this shows why
Quinoa19841 October 2008
Robert Altman shouldn't make a movie like this, but the fact that he did- and that it turns out to be a reasonably good and tightly-wound thriller in that paperback-tradition of Grisham thrillers- shows a versatility that is commendable. In the Gingerbread Man he actually has to work with something that, unfortunately, he isn't always very successful at, or at least it's not the first thing on his checklist as director: plot. There's one of those big, juicy almost pot-boiler plots where a sleazy lawyer gets caught up with a desperate low-class woman and then a nefarious figure whom the woman is related with enters their lives in the most staggering ways, twists and plot ensues, yada yada. And it's surprising that Altman would really want to take on one of these "I saw that coming from back there!" endings, or just a such a semi-conventional thriller.

But it's a surprise that pays off because, oddly enough, Altman is able to catch some of that very fine behavior, or rather is able to unintentionally coax it out of a very well-cast ensemble, of a small-town Georgian environment. The film drips with atmosphere (if not total superlative craftsmanship, sometimes it's good and sometimes just decent for Altman), as Savannah is possibly going to be hit by a big hurricane and the swamp and marshes and rain keep things soaked and muggy and humid. So the atmosphere is really potent, but so are performances from (sometimes) hysterical Kenneth Branaugh, Embeth Davitz as the 'woman' who lawyer Branaugh gets caught up with, and Robert Downey Jr (when is he *not* good?) as the private detective in Branaugh's employ. Did I neglect Robert Duvall, who in just five minutes of screen time makes such an indelible impression to hang the bad-vibes of the picture on?

As said, some of the plot is a little weak, or just kind of standard (lawyer is divorced, bitter custody battle looms, innocent and goofy kids), but at the same time I think Altman saw something captivating in the material, something darker than some of the other Grisham works that has this standing out somehow. If it's not entirely masterful, it still works on its limited terms as a what-will-happen-next mystery-Southern-noir.
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A Savannah GA lawyer misjudges a situation, and a girl, and finds himself in deep trouble.
jn135617 April 2001
I expected more of Kenneth Branagh. It is a decent movie, on the low side of watchable. I prefer my suspense movies not to be predictable from the outset, which this was! We saw it for two reasons--Branagh and John Grisham. My final opinion was that Grisham wanted to try his hand at writing a screenplay, and he had the clout to get it produced. I hope his next screenplay will benefit from his first errors, as his subsequent novels have gotten better as his experience as an author grows.
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Great acting, bad plot
nolanjwerner30 December 2002
The plot of this film was only bad in the last section of the film. Before that it builds up to something good that never comes. I had to learn a Southern accent for a play (being from Kentucky and not having a Southern accent of course) so I rented this movie and learned one. Kudos to Kenneth Branagh and Robert Downey Jr. Watching this film it seemed like there was about 45 minutes worth of plot missing that would have made this a good movie. IF you have the missing 45 minutes please send it to me.
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A Murky, Pointless Mess.
mark_leeforshaw20 August 2001
Rarely have I witnessed such a gratuitous waste of talent. There is almost nothing constructive to be said about this hopeless swamp of a film. What few interesting strands the film seems to promise initially turn out to be little more than red herrings. Actors of stature - Robert Duvall, Robert Downey, Jr. - are deployed in roles which go nowhere; a director of occasional genius produces a film which looks like it is filmed through a coffee-stained camera lens; a writer (John Grisham) who has never produced anything of merit, discovers new depths of under-motivated incoherence. The film has a cheap, lecherous feel about it - but barely at the level of commentary - its really part of the aesthetic. Normally, I come on to the IMDb to write balanced, generally appreciative comments. This egregious disaster of a film just makes me want to produce an endless, bilious rant. I won't, but only because I no longer want to occupy my "mind" with this trash.
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Plot made no sense
kmcint18 July 2001
Warning: Spoilers
I rented this film the first time but only got to see the first 20 minutes. I finally got a chance to rent it again and really wish I hadn't. The plot made absolutely no sense and as for the ending...

*** Spoilers ahead ***

Surely they would have found out that Berenger and Davidtz were still married when investigating for the hearing for Duvall.

If the whole thing was an elaborate set up by Berenger and Davidtz they could have found out about the will before hand.

There was no proof that either Davidtz or Berenger did actually anything wrong. So why would they kill Downey Jr? Why did Davidtz kill Berenger (did she mean to?, if not why would she risk it?).
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A great and underrated film!
thao13 December 2006
This is a wonderful Film Noir thriller, liked by the critics but hated by the public (as often with Altman). One of the reason people don't get it might be because they don't know film noir well enough and therefore miss the wonderful homage Altman makes in this film.

I have also seen people complain that it is too slow to be a thriller. Well, I like my thrillers that way. Enough time to get to know the characters and the setting, and a slow built up tension. It does not harm that the film is also well acted and has a beautiful cinematography.

This is one of Robert Altman's most underrated film, along with Popeye (1980). We can only hope that time will correct the harsh judgment this small gem got from the public. Who knows, maybe the rising star of Robert Downey Jr. might help to get a little re-appreciation of The Gingerbread Man.
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Grisham strikes again, unfortunately.
Scott-19217 October 2001
While it's true, as others have noted, that this movie succeeds on style (acting, direction and cinematography are all first-rate) a thriller must have a compelling plot, and that is something that Grisham's paint-by-numbers approach consistently fails to deliver. There is a bit of a zig and a zag at the end, but it remains utterly conventional and unsurprising, and while it's watchable one can't help but feel cheated. All that talent and atmosphere, and whiffs of tantalizing plot developments that never amount to much, make this movie one long tease.
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Branagh, Berenger, Downey, Jr., Duvall & Hannah Thrill in a Southern Noir
semioticz19 October 2007
Warning: Spoilers
A Savannah, GA attorney, Rick Magruder (Kenneth Branagh), has a partly accidental one night stand fling with a rain-drenched caterer, Mallory Doss (Embeth Davidtz). Immediately, he becomes infatuated with her & simultaneously aware that her violently psychotic father, Dixon (Robert Duvall), is terrorizing Mallory. Magruder calls in his private detective, Clyde Pell (Robert Downey, Jr.), to hunt down the extremely deranged Dixon (Duvall). However, both Magruder & Pell soon realize Dixon is so cunning that even Magruder's law partner, Lois Harlan (Daryl Hannah), will be involved to the degree of risking her own life as Magruder extends the full force of his law firm in defense of his under-statused mistress Mallory.

Once Dixon is arrested, the law firm subpoenas Mallory's ex-husband, Pete Randle (Tom Berenger), to testify, as a very reluctant witness, against Dixon. Dixon is ordered into an asylum, then escapes, fueled with more fury for violence against everyone involved. The thriller doesn't stop there, but my summary does! "The Gingerbread Man" is a Southern Gothic Thriller par excellance. Clyde Hayes rewrote John Grisham's novel into the screenplay that Robert Altman aptly directed. The cast is too experienced & talented to fail either the novel or the screenplay. Branagh, who usually plays in more classical roles, like Shakespearean characters, quite capably takes the leading role & steals the show with it.

Due to depictions of violence, terror, deranged psychosis & adult language, this motion picture is not suitable for children or the faint at heart. It will keep a lover of Gothic thrillers on the edge of their seat, time & again. Plus, when you believe it's over, it's not.
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Altman uncovers Grisham
EdgarST23 January 2000
Robert Altman is my favorite American director. I must admit that I have enjoyed the films that are usually scorned: "Quintet", if only for giving me the pleasure of seeing a grown-up and beautiful Brigitte Fossey, who was unforgettable as the little girl in "Forbidden Games"; "HealtH", for having Lauren Bacall, Carol Burnett, Alfre Woodard and Glenda Jackson, all in the same cast; "Popeye", for that splendid and surreal world, Shelley Duvall's Olive Oyl and the wonderful Malta locations; "O.C. & Stiggs", for its proposal of an anti-"adolescents flick"; "Beyond Therapy", for all its lunacy and for the presence of Genèvieve Page, who for all her effort to look Parisian chic is taken for a travestite... I have even enjoyed his one-act TV movies, like "The Dumb Waiter" and "The Laundromat". When there is not much plot to develop in his films, you have wonderful performances, from Burnett, John Travolta, Kim Basinger or Jane Curtin. I perceive and enjoy the different approach and description he makes of the many different cultures of the United States. It is a pity that his genius is seldom appreciated, and that he is always forgotten when the time comes for giving out American prizes and awards. He is not your typical mainstream purveyor of fantasies. He is more of a maverick. So it is not surprising for me to find so many bad comments posted here about "The Gingerbread Man", his most 'mainstream' effort to date and to my knowledge. I did not know there were so many people who thought like Leonard Maltin, who does not like Altman at all. In this case, one may dislike "The Gingerbread Man", but for me the reason has more to do with Grisham than with the director-screenwriter. Some of Altman's trademarks are here: improvised dialogue, great performances, a funny lawyers' office with typical irreverent receptionist and secretary. While some people find it boring, I found the first act fascinating, thanks also for the great cinematography by Changwei Gu, the man who shot "Red Sorghum", "Ju Dou" and "Farewell My Concubine". He has a way of showing us the same things we see in other American movies, but under a different light. Through his "foreigner's gaze", almost everything seems new and different. In this first act, things were so logical and true! Wait until you get older. You may get in trouble if you fall under the spell of someone younger and beautiful as Embeth Davidtz. I know for myself what I have done fascinated by someone who is younger than I am! Then you have Robert Duvall's repellent, menacing and mysterious character, while that Geraldo storm is threatening Savannah. The second act gets a little phony and even funny, because Altman may have conducted it with a grin. I remember laughing aloud in several instances with his ironic remarks. I think he was applying a bit of Brecht, distancing us, preparing us for the third act, which is plain Hollywood pastiche. Altman does it with expertise. Being a wise man, and an intelligent director, luckily he did not fall into the traps of today's action movies. He was directing a tale of lust, greed and death. I was not disappointed a bit with the movie. If I give it a nine instead of 10, it is because of Grisham. The American reader has turned him into a best-selling author. So why complain? Maybe we should thank Altman for showing us the seams in his stories, the dullness, the flatness and the silliness of them all. However, he does it with so much gusto and humor, that I cannot but disagree with the negative comments. For me, these persons saw another movie... And vice versa.
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good suspense but sometimes hard to swallow
tommyboy-1613 January 2001
I give it a solid 7. The acting was good and the story was good, to a point. Some of the actions of the criminal did not make sense, but I guess there are a lot of real criminals in prison that also ran a little short in that area . I can say the same thing for the lawyer. One minute he is brilliant and the next he does not know what is going on. Real people many times do the same. Fact is stranger than fiction. As an arm chair director I think this movie could have been better. Its worth watching.
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Fluffy Pastry
tedg12 November 2000
With house architecture, gingerbread is the decorative, fluffy lace that is put on a Victorian house. Most Victorian masses are really ugly, clumsy, incompetent -- and that's why gingerbread was developed. The reason behind all this was the rise of the carpenter-designer. Victorian architecture is a product of the industrial age. Everyone wanted such a house, and with few skilled architects around, some blunt conventions were developed that any craftsman could use. And then dress up the horrendous result with gingerbread.

So it is with this film. The key problem here is that it has no master designer. The script was rather developed on the spot in Altman's famous `let's improvise' method by the rude mechanicals involved.

This film was made for one reason: Branagh had a Clinton impression he didn't want to waste. And at least his contribution is all built around his singular idea of the man, using the blunt conventions of the `thriller.' Altman is just along for the ride.

In comments on Branagh's Shakespeare (and the Shakespeare of others), I've noted the pitfalls of putting an actor in charge. Actors are very late in the dramatic food chain, and just cannot understand bigger picture dynamics. Branagh himself has escaped these limitations (when he has) only because he is adept with Shakespearian conventions. (His acting always is remarkable, but that's another issue.)

See this film. It really helps to put perspective on the very interesting adventure of Branagh's trying to grow Shakespeare from the actor's eye. And it helps one understand why his `Love's Labor's Lost' is as it is.
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Altman, muzzled, falls short of greatness this time.
mwa21 October 1998
I found myself at sixes and sevens while watching this one. Altman's touch with zooms in and out were there, and I expected those devices to comment on characters and situations. Unfortunately, as far as I could see, they sometimes were gratuitous, sometimes witty, often barren for failing to point out some ironic or other connection. In particular, two zoom-outs from the gilt dome in savannah merely perplexed. To be fair, though, a few zooms (outs and ins) to Branagh heightened his character's increasing bewilderment, a la Pudgy McCabe's or Philip Marlow's. On the whole, the zooms were, well, inconsistent, and sometimes even trite.

Other Almanesque devices, such as multiple panes of glass between camera and subject, succeeded in suggesting characters' sollipsism or narcissism or opaque states of knowledge. Car windshields, house windows, and other screens were used effectively and fairly consistently, I felt, harking back to THE PLAYER and even THE LONG GOODBYE. A few catchy jump-cuts, especially to a suggestive tv commercial, reminded me of such usage in SHORT CUTS, to sardonic effect.

But finally, the mismatch between Altman's very personal style and the sheer weight of the Grisham-genre momentum, failed to excite me. This director's 1970s masterpieces revised and deconstructed various classic genres, including the chandler detective film which this resembled in some ways; this time around, the director seemed to have too few arrows in his analytic quiver to strike any meaningful blow to the soft underbelly of this beastly genre. Was he muzzled in by mammonist producers, perhaps? Or am I missing something, due to my feeble knowledge of the genre he takes on here?

Nonetheless, the casting was excellent all around: Tom Berenger (for his terrifying ferality), Branagh for his (deflated) hubris, Robert Downey Jr's pheromonal haze, Robert Duvall's method of trash, and Davidtz's lurking femme-fatality were near perfect choices all. And except for a few slips out of Georgia into Chicago on the part of (brunette?) Daryl Hannah, accents were convincingly southern.

Suspense and mood were engrossing, even if the story didn't quite rivet viewers. The moodiness of a coastal pre-hurricane barometric plunge was exquisitely, painstakingly rendered--I felt like yelling at the usher to turn on the swamp cooler pronto.

Torn, in the end I judged it a 7.
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Intrigue and atmosphere in Georgia!
pied28 September 1998
Another underrated gem! The Gingerbread Man taken from a Grisham novel is better than the book. Kenneth Branaugh is excellent is as the supporting cast including the great Robert Duvall. Accents and atmosphere are realistic and the suspense is great even if the story line is somewhat predictable.
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Worth watching
Phil-7826 August 1998
If you have read any of John Grishams books, and liked them, than this film will go down well. Definitely as good as any of his books, and added twists work well on screen. Very good.
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Easily the best John Grisham adaptation.
Auteur-226 September 1999
Of all the films from the John Grisham courtroom genre, this one features the best acting.This is, of course, due to the wise and experienced direction of Robert Altman. What I can't understand is why Polygram didn't release the picture on a wider scale.It could have done very well if it were given half a chance.
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A great performance by Daryl Hannah
rascal-213 August 1998
The biggest surprise in this movie was the performance of Daryl Hannah. Rather than playing the stereotypical ditzy blonde roles that she usually does she plays a street-smart, intelligent, world-weary character. She doesn't have a huge role but she does a great job portraying Lois Harlan as a woman tired of, although used to, covering up for her boss' indiscretions.
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Intricate, intriguing and suspenseful.
Dale-3127 October 1998
This is a great ensemble piece with great actors, a great director and a great story line to draw us in further.
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Okay, I suppose
knuman4 September 2002
Watched this movie not anticipating a whole lot, and rightfully so. Sure the cast was great, but most of the movie didn't make much sense. Even though it had some tense moments, it's hard to enjoy it when you keep wondering why people are acting so irrationally. The storyline itself was also quite average...
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Suspense thriller
Judge808015 May 2004
'The Gingerbread Man'(1998) Kenneth Branagh( with a very convincing southern accent )stars as a hotshot Savannah lawyer who gets more than he bargained for after a one night stand with a seductive waitress played by Embeth Davidtz. After returning to town after winning a case and a hurricane fast approaching Savannah, Branagh hooks up with Davidtz after her car is allegedly stolen by her nutcase father played by the great Robert Duvall. Branagh uses his legal clout to get Duvall admitted to the looney bin only to have him escape with the help of several of his equally off the wall buddies and suddenly Branaghs family is put in harms way.This is a stylish thriller directed by Robert Altman based upon the John Grisham novel. Strong support by Tom Berenger, Robert Downey Jr and Daryl Hannah. rated 4 of 5 stars
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Fine ingredients yet leaves a bad taste
lowell-522 February 1999
The Gingerbread Man has all the ingredients of a fine movie. A respected director, a script by a best-selling author, and a well-rounded cast, all of whom succeed in stretching their abilities. The question of why the movie crumbles, seeming more like a mediocre television show than a movie, lies with Grisham's set of unlovable characters and a director who, disrespectful of his audience's intelligence, gives away the entire pending two-hour plot within the first ten minutes of the movie by his choice of camera shots.

The cast, each out of the respective genres that made them famous, deliver unexpectedly fine performances. Yet their characters suffer from existing as Hollywood stereotypes of Southerners whose greed, stupidity, and amorality are not grounded in the audience's reality. The movie does manage to attain a high level of suspense, yet it is difficult to muster any compassion for a sleazy dolt of an attorney, his obviously manipulative one-night stand, and a uni-dimensional supporting cast. After viewing The Gingerbread Man you'll want two hours of your life back.
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