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CELL ORDER
IN 'HOUSE OF D,' DUCHOVNY IS PRISONER OF HIS OWN DEVICE

HOUSE OF D ** 1/2

STARRING: David Duchovny, Robin Williams, Tea Leoni, Anton Yelchin, Erykah Badu

DIRECTOR: David Duchovny

RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes

RATING: PG-13 for language

THE LOWDOWN: Expatriate artist in Paris remembers his tough coming-of-age in Greenwich Village in the 1970s.

It's literally true that, for many years, New York's Women's House of Detention had such an accessible location in Greenwich Village that its inhabitants, if they wanted, could keep up a running dialogue with the neighborhood residents from their cells. There is, for instance, a well-remembered Tom Wolfe piece from the mid-'60s about it -- early evidence of one writer's love of social classes in collision.

"House of D" is what David Duchovny has made of it -- a sweet, lovable little movie that presents his debut as cinematic one-man band: actor, writer and director, all in one movie. He is, if anything, a bit more talented as a writer and director than he is as an actor, where he is not exactly, uh, Sean Penn.

It doesn't make "House of D" much more than a standard coming-of-age tale with some surprisingly bitter plot twists.

It begins with Duchovny, as an artist in Paris, remembering his village childhood, circa 1973. We flash back to his younger self, played rather wonderfully by Anton Yelchin, listening to his troubled and recently widowed mother crying herself to sleep.

The movie itself seems almost French in its determination to let pungent details tell the story -- the cigarette butts his mother leaves in the toilet, for instance, which become, in his mind, tear-jerking talismans of his mother's increasingly troubled life. Duchovny's wife -- the tragically underemployed Tea Leoni -- plays the boy's mother.

The kid goes to parochial school where Frank Langella is the kindly priest headmaster and Robin Williams is the retarded (still the 1970s word) school janitor. And he tells his troubles to an inmate of the house of D played by Erykah Badu.

To many, the sight of Williams in his sentimental "heartwarming" mode is enough to cause a sprint to the exits. He's actually quite innocuous and appealing here, which if you add it to Langella's subtle performance and Yelchin's and Leoni's moving ones indicates a pretty talented movie director on the case.

It's a sweet, little film, evincing a filmmaking talent that will, no doubt, be more artfully employed the next time around.

e-mail: jsimon@buffnews.com