The Ladies Man (2000)

D: Reginald Hudlin
S: Tim Meadows, Karyn Parsons

The Ladies Man is Another Saturday Night Live sketch extended into a feature which suffers from all of the same problems as all of the other Saturday Night Live sketches extended into features. A one-joke character in a one-joke situation is kept on screen for ninety minutes or more and a sappy, clichéd set of story principles are run through what amounts to a collection of television skits. Still, these movies tend to make enough money to get the producers as far as the next one, and for the undemanding punter, the film offers about as much entertainment as anything else on the video store shelves. Whether or not you should actually bother to see it is another thing.

The particular character given centre stage this time out is Tim Meadows' eponymous hero, host of a late night radio talk show in which he dispenses advice on love and sex. Trapped in a throwback seventies time warp, Leon Phelps (Meadows) is a genteel, lisping, afro-wearing, corvoussier-drinking smoothie whose take on life has been informed by an upbringing in a brothel and a lifetime of confident womanising. He is not aggressive or condescending, but he has very definite views on how to please a lady and is free with his advice in a way which eventually gets him in trouble. When ditched by his radio station, he and his producer (Karyn Parsons) go in search of new employment. When he finds that no one will take him on, Leon decides to find a rich woman who will keep him in the style to which he is accustomed. A mysterious message from a past lover of whose identity he is unsure seems to be the answer, and he embarks on a quest to find her. The result is a series of mildly comic encounters which have Leon coming face to face with the consequences of his lifestyle. Meanwhile a group of enraged husbands led by wreslting-obssessed Will Ferrell (A Night at the Roxbury) is hot on his trail and plans to do bloody murder if they catch him.

The Ladies Man has one truly funny scene. About mid way through, the angry posse of cuckolded husbands prepare to storm a place where they believe Leon is hiding. As they gather their weapons and make their way to their objective in masculine mob fashion, they unexpectedly burst into song. The result is a wonderfully choreographed and very funny bit of Broadway-style song and dance which though making an obvious point about the contrast between images of masculinity and male self-expression, makes it in an entertaining way which almost makes up for the rest of the movie. Almost.

Most of the rest is predictable and only mildly funny. There is only so much mileage to be had from Leon's 'outrageous' viewpoints. The scene where he interviews a nun on an all-Christian radio channel and struggles to contain himself as she speaks in phrases which for him have altogether different meanings is a case in point ("taking up a missionary position"... geddit?). Meadows is very good as this character; sweet enough to appear non-threatening in spite of his casual sexism, simple enough to win sympathy. Throughout the scene he sweats and trembles, his eyes frantic as he holds back the tide. Unfortunately the anticipation of his eventually cracking is better than the eventual result. The gag dissipates, the moment passes, and you realise that all that has been achieved is that the film moves along to the next scene without building on the previous.

Meadows is backed by a game supporting cast including Ferrell, Lee Evans (There's Something About Mary), Eugene Levy (American Pie), Billy Dee Williams (The Empire Strikes Back) and Julianne Moore (The Lost World). Director Reginald Hudlin (House Party) is capable enough and the film moves quickly through its perfunctory plot. The simple problem is that the script, by Meadows, Dennis McNicholas and Andrew Steele, is nothing more than a premise with some textbook screenwriting 101 backstory and motivation worked through it. The character is amusing, but really does not belong in a feature. Humour built around punchlines is best appreciated in small doses, and unless you have the rapid-fire energy of the Marx Brothers or the determination of the Zuckers, more is needed to keep the audience on your side than a collection of moments.

That said, this is perfect home viewing for a lazy evening if you are of a mind to enjoy it. Be warned though, there is one pretty revolting moment involving eating mysterious substances in jars and the film is run through with sexual references which not everyone will find inoffensive in spite of the spirit of the thing. Still, you really should check out that song-and-dance scene.

Review by Harvey O'Brien PhD. copyright 2002.

Note: The Region 2 DVD comes with a promotional documentary and some rudimentary features.