"THE WOMAN CHASER"|
87 minutes | Unrated
Opened: Friday, August 4, 2000 (in SF)
Various play dates in other cities
Adapted & directed by Robinson Devor
Starring Patrick Warburton, Lynette Bennett, Emily Newman, Eugene Roche, Paul Malevitz & Ernie Vincent
'Woman Chaser' Warburton delightfully deadpan, but early '60s showbiz noir spoof feels empty
Film noir is a genre filmmakers delight to dabble in, and dabbling is what writer-director Robinson Devor does in "The Woman Chaser," a clever on the outside, empty on the inside noir spoof/homage.
Set in the early 1960s, it's a sarcastic movie industry farce about a used car salesman with an uncaged Id who becomes convinced -- based on nothing but his own hubris -- that he can write and direct a momentous, innovative feature film.
Perfectly cast as this cavalier, barrel-chested wannabe artiste is Patrick Warburton (Puddy on "Seinfeld," Johnny Johnson on "NewsRadio"), whose trademark squint and deadpan line delivery brings this mock visionary to ironic life. At his car dealership in the shadow of the Capitol Records building he sells tail-finned jalopies to unsuspecting schmucks with the smoothest of smooth talk.
As a boss he's a nightmare, making his salesmen wear Santa suits in August as a publicity stunt. As a screenwriter, he's an egomaniac willing to go to the mat for what he thinks is his immaculate, ingenious vision.
But despite Warburton's innate ability to endear such a churlish anti-hero to an audience, it's just not enough here. His performance is spot-on, but there's just nothing enticing about the character. The deft spoofing of the noir style is the only thing that holds your attention while watching this dumb guy make a dumb movie while demonstrating his pointless and unexplained misogyny on seemingly random women. (The title completely is a misnomer -- women have little to do with "The Woman Chaser.")
Warburton gets his picture financed with money from his milquetoast step-father who fancies himself a Hollywood player, and he proceeds to make an utterly laughable piece of surrealistic, mock-philosophical crap (which is only 63 minutes, so the studio dumps it onto TV) that is by far the funniest thing about "The Woman Chaser."
This movie, based on a dime novel by Charles Willeford (whose pulp fiction also begot "Miami Blues"), meets all the structural and visual requirements of its genre. In fact, without a copyright date on the closing credits it could easily be mistaken for a B-movie from the era in which it takes place, albeit one with a very odd sense of humor. There are golden moments of dry comical genius, like a creepy, Oedipal dance number with Warburton and his mother (Lynette Bennett), in which he prances around her studio shirtless, like a bear in a tutu.
But the story feels stretched (maybe this film should have been cut to 63 minutes) and writer-director Devor steers Warburton's character down such an unlikable and disconnected path that most of the time he's so belligerent that the natural tendency is to try to tune him out -- like a loud, drunken lout at baseball game.
Since this character is 90 percent of the movie, that's a big problem.