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THE LADIES MAN

by: James Berardinelli

The Ladies Man offers the latest piece of compelling evidence about the difficulty involved in transforming a five or ten minute comedy sketch into a full-length motion picture. No matter how inspired the source material (and it would be a stretch to call anything from the last 10 years of Saturday Night Live "inspired"), stretching something to ten times its intended length is going to create a thin, warped result (imagine Monty Python's "Dead Parrot Sketch" dragged out to 90 minutes). The Ladies Man is like that. There are times when it's possible to see the director and screenwriters' desperation as they unsuccessfully try to find something - anything - to keep the momentum from flagging and the movie from sputtering to a halt.

It is worth noting that The Ladies Man is far from the worst SNL-inspired motion picture to steamroll through movie theaters in the past decade. In fact, in the wake of duds like A Night at the Roxbury and Superstar, this qualifies as passable entertainment. It contains some genuinely funny moments, although there aren't enough laughs to justify the time I spent in the theater. As one might expect from this sort of material, there are a lot of sex jokes, most of which come across as more crude than humorous. (An exception is an interview with a nun who has decided to "assume a missionary position in Bangkok" - it's no less juvenile than anything else, but it is side-splitting). There are attempts at inventive comedy sprinkled throughout, such as a lively parody of West Side Story-type song-and-dance numbers and a narrator who is visible to the characters upon whose lives he is commenting.

The plot, like that of all SNL motion picture stories, is a complete throw-away. It exists solely as a means to give the lead character something to do for an hour and a half. Leon Phelps (Tim Meadows) is a living anachronism - a man whose wardrobe, morals, and hairstyle are stuck in the '70s. The host of a raunchy late night radio talk show called "Ladies Man", Leon generates more calls and hate mail than any other deejay, until one night he goes too far with one of his sensitive love poems, and he and his pretty producer, Julie (Karyn Parsons), end up unemployed. The rest of the movie centers on various aspects of Leon's life - his attempts to locate the perfect job while avoiding an angry mob of cuckolded husbands, his search for a mystery woman who fell in love with him years ago when they had a brief fling, and his inability to sort out his true feelings for Julie.

As far as characterization goes, The Ladies Man makes a cataclysmic mistake by trying to turn Leon, a shallow, self-absorbed, insensitive sex addict, into a sympathetic individual. The miscalculation hurts the film's already uncertain tone, since Leon is fundamentally unlikable and rounding off his rough edges only serves to make him dull. Leon is played by SNL alum Tim Meadows, whose career on the big and small screen has essentially been limited to SNL parts. Meadows is joined by another SNL figure, Will Ferrell, who portrays one of the husbands who's after Leon. Also in the cast are Karyn Parsons as Julie, Billy Dee Williams as a bartender with all the right advice, and ex-Saved by the Bell girl, Tiffany Thiessen. There are also a few high profile cameos, including appearances by Eugene Levy and Julianne Moore. (I have no idea why either was attracted to this material).

By virtue of its R-rating, The Ladies Man is more coarse than its TV source, but that doesn't necessarily serve to make it better, only different. The real problem here is a basic lack of creativity. Not only has producer Lorne Michaels (who is forever trying to re-create the blockbuster success of Wayne's World) once again dipped into his nearly empty bag of SNL characters, but he mistakenly assumes that a buffoon li

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