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The Tic Code

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The Tic Code

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The last time Gregory Hines hooked up with a debilitating affliction, the result was 1997's Good Luck (a.k.a. Guys Like Us, a.k.a. The Ox And The Eye), a not-at-all-a-joke buddy picture that teamed a paraplegic Hines with a blind Vincent D'Onofrio in a climactic whitewater-rafting competition. That formula gets another workout in The Tic Code, an earnest and deeply cliched melodrama that saddles him with Tourette Syndrome, a nervous condition that's become popular among comics for triggering long strings of obscenities. If little else, writer and star Polly Draper (thirtysomething), whose real-life husband is a Tourette sufferer, reclaims the disease from the nation's stand-up clubs and low-brow comedies, presenting a fuller, more humane depiction of its effects. But, however honorable their intentions, Draper and director Gary Winick swathe a sympathetic and convincing portrait of Tourette in predictable dramatic set-ups and movie-of-the-week banality. Of particular waste is an impressive performance by 11-year-old Christopher George Marquette, who masters a range of facial and muscular tics without seeming mannered or insufferably maudlin. A jazz-piano prodigy with a predilection for Thelonious Monk's flat-fingered playing style, Marquette lives with his saintly mother (Draper) and frequently steals away to the legendary Village Vanguard club in off-hours to hone his craft. Missing a father figure, he finds a kindred soul in famous saxophonist Hines, a fellow Tourette victim who takes the boy under his wing and romances his lovelorn mother. The Tic Code has a few poignant moments, with Marquette and Hines trying to come to terms with the disease, but they're regularly undermined by stock characters and situations. A scene in which the boy struggles to control his tics for his estranged father's benefit might have been moving if the father weren't such a cartoon sleaze, a boorish greaser with slicked-back hair and a black leather jacket. (Ditto Fisher Stevens as Hines' insensitive, unscrupulous agent.) For Draper, The Tic Code is obviously a deeply personal project, but she's so concerned with giving the audience a truer understanding of Tourette that the film works better as a PSA than as a full-blooded melodrama.