In an era of noise and clutter and gross-out chic, is there room for a comedy that dares to be deadpan? John Walsh's Pipe Dream is one of the funniest films I've seen this year, but the laughs aren't shoved in your face. They emerge from the delightfully casual way in which the characters will stoop to anything to further their own ends. David (Martin Donovan), a New York plumber, has figured out that the snobbish middle-class world doesn't register his existence. In an experiment to meet girls, he poses as a film director named David Coppolberg and sets up a fake casting call. Because he's tall, handsome, and inscrutable about his ''art'' (i.e., he doesn't have a thought in his head about it), he acquires the aura of a hot indie talent.
The casting session generates buzz, the buzz snowballs, and suddenly, in spite of himself, David is directing a real movie, with a script by his lovely neighbor, Toni (Mary-Louise Parker), an aspiring playwright who feeds him on-set instructions through his headphones. ''Pipe Dream'' is like ''Being There'' directed by Preston Sturges; it's a screwball satire of moviemaking that understands the daffy power of perception. Donovan has never shown this kind of spry leading-man charm, and his flirtation with Parker has just enough competitive hostility to set off sparks. The film satirizes, and celebrates, an idea pivotal to both Hollywood and love: that in a world of impostors, the pretender with the most conviction can become exactly what he pretends to be.