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"Pumpkin' filled with satire

Pumpkin (R) (118 min.) Pumpkin defies description. Maybe it doesn't need a category but a diagnosis. Relentlessly, and sometimes brilliantly, it forces us to decide what we really think, how permissive our taste really is, how far a black comedy can go before it goes too far. It's like a teenage sex comedy crossed with the darkest corners of underground comics. We laugh in three ways: with humor, with recognition and with disbelief.

The film stars Christina Ricci as Carolyn McDuffy, the peppiest member of a sorority house that dreams of being named Sorority of the Year. To get extra points, the house arranges to coach "special people" _ physically and mentally handicapped athletes _ and all of the girls are lined up eagerly when the buses arrive with their tutorial victims.

One of them is Pumpkin Romanoff (Hank Harris), who seems to be both mentally and physically challenged, although the movie refuses to permit a verdict about his intelligence level. At first Carolyn is too awkward and embarrassed to deal with Pumpkin _ everything she says seems to be offensive _ but then she finds she can't get him out of her mind. Pumpkin, of course, has fallen instantly in love with her.

Everything in the movie mocks itself. Even the last shot calls Carolyn's ultimate sincerity into question. But I can say this: Pumpkin is alive, and takes chances, and uses the wicked blade of satire to show up the complacent political correctness of other movies in its campus genre.

The movie refuses to play it safe. Pumpkin may make you mad, but at least you're not angry because it wasn't trying.

_ ROGER EBERT, Chicago Sun-Times