April 25, 2003 at 04:00 AM EDT

No, this is not a sequel to Steve Martin’s 2001 flop, ”Novocaine.” And no, ”Dentists” isn’t about psychotic ADA members wielding bloody drills. In fact, there’s hardly any blood at all in this movie. But sweat, tears, and emotional anguish? Plenty of that. ”It’s an exploration of marriage, how people survive with three young children, and how they sometimes fail,” says Hope Davis, who plays one half of a couple — both of whom are dentists — in crisis. ”It looks at how the thing that binds you together can also be the thing that tears you apart.”

As heavy as this sounds (and after all, the film is based on the cheerily titled 1988 Jane Smiley novella, ”The Age of Grief”), director Alan Rudolph promises there are lighter moments. In particular, those delivered by Denis Leary, who plays the gruff-and-greasy patient Campbell Scott’s character imagines is the voice of his own subconscious. ”I would describe the film as Ingmar Bergman meets Bozo the Clown,” laughs Rudolph. ”Everyday life has its place at the table, but hopefully, we kept it entertaining.” And getting that done depended on the powerhouse actors at the head of said table. ”Not only do Campbell and Hope dig deep enough to find a real person there…but they know each other very well, so they can share glances that have a history. That’s the stuff marriage is made of.”

104 minutes
Alan Rudolph
Campbell Scott,
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