`Mannequin Two': Still The Dummy

X 1/2 "Mannequin Two: On the Move," with William Ragsdale, Kristy Swanson, Meshach Taylor. Directed by Stewart Raffill, from a script by Edward Rugoff, David Isaacs, Ken Levine and Betsy Israel. Alderwood, Aurora, Everett Mall, Factoria, Gateway, Kent, Kirkland Parkplace, Lewis & Clark, Overlake, U.A. Cinemas 150. "PG" - Parental guidance advised, due to language. ------------------------------------------------------------ Pity the talented filmmaker who gets stuck making a sequel to something that was worthless to begin with.

Stewart Raffill, a British director who consistently does good work with less-than-promising material ("The Philadelphia Experiment," "Adventures of the Wilderness Family"), has the unenviable job of cleaning up the mess made four years ago by Michael Gottlieb, who turned the first "Mannequin" into a vacuous Andrew McCarthy vehicle.

Raffill has at least made "Mannequin Two" easier to take than the original. He's given it the tone of a fractured fairy tale, especially in a goofy prologue set in a mythical kingdom 1,000 years ago, complete with tacky special effects and a score that spoofs the music Erich Wolfgang Korngold used to write for Errol Flynn's swashbucklers.

It also helps that Raffill's star, William Ragsdale, is a looser, more adventurous comic than McCarthy. It isn't their fault that four writers have managed to come up with little more than a rehash of the first script.

Although it shares only one of "Mannequin's" characters - Meshach Taylor returns to the role of the swishy window-dresser, Hollywood Montrose - the plot line is identical: a department-store employee (Ragsdale) falls for a mannequin (Kristy Swanson) who won't leave him alone. He doesn't know it, but he's the reincarnation of her long-lost love.

Taylor's campiness is as infectious as ever - he's like a male Bette Midler - and there is little animosity from the straight characters (he was plagued by a homophobic night watchman in the first film). Whether he's needling his obnoxious boss (Stuart Pankin), ogling the hunks who are following the mannequin, or revealing that he's an ex-Marine ("They were looking for a few good men, and so was I"), he's appreciated for his wit and flamboyance.

Unfortunately, the recycled plot is still the driving force here, and the movie becomes increasingly frantic trying to accommodate it. In the end, Raffill can't bring this dummy to life, but he does try.