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TV Reviews : '5 Ft. 2 Women' Doesn't Measure Up as Timely Satire

August 20, 1994|CHRIS WILLMAN

It's not so terribly far, really, from "The Homecoming Queen Has Got a Gun" to "The Venezuelan Has Got a Knife" or "The White Trash Girl Has Got a Crippling Baton." So the unsinkable Julie Brown would seem just the gal to translate the rags-to-rages sagas of Lorena Bobbitt and Tonya Harding, respectively, into the stuff of docucomedy, following up her triumphal Madonna skewering.

But, well-self-cast as she might be, at this date Brown is definitely dealing with remainders when it comes to conceiving a new comedic spin on Harding or Bobbitt, whose lurid stories now seem a distant few hundred tabloids of generational psychic damage ago. "Attack of the 5 Ft. 2 Women," Brown's two-part telemovie on Showtime, has some good, hearty, vicious laughs scattered through its hour and a half, but not nearly enough to negate the fact that timeliness is part of the essence of parody.

The first segment, "Tonya: The Battle of Wounded Knee," holds the lion's share of hysterical moments. As well it should: Anyone who read the recent accounting of the whole Harding affair in Rolling Stone had to be struck by how even a straightforward recap reads like a screen treatment for an ensemble farce. Brown (who directed as well as co-wrote this half) has gathered amusingly dead-on supporting players to eviscerate the whole familiar cast of sorry Oregonians--from the fair-weather husband to the mercenary wanna-be bodyguard--plus, of course, the lithe, toothy rival everyone loved, then loved to hate.

And Brown is perfect for nothing if not capturing a kind of unconscious brazenness that is Harding's lot: not remembering to stub out her cigarette till she's already out on the Olympic ice, using her skate to carve up a pizza, singing a fantasy musical number in which she chases a terrified Nancy through a dreamy icescape. But, after a good start, the segment falls flat before Tonya does, as icy subtleties finally give way to watery slapstick.

The longer and even less subtle second half, "He Never Give Me Orgasm: The Lenora Babbitt Story" (directed by Richard Wenk), could have used even more judicious, uh, trimming. The idea of an "orgasmically challenged" immigrant whose sexual frustration leads her to take up cutlery is the stuff of a skit, not the 45 minutes lent to what unfortunately amounts to less ensemble work and more of an over-the-top one-woman show.

For, though everyone would recognize John Wayne Bobbitt (or Juan Wayne, as his wife calls him here) as the funnier figure from his subsequent deadpan attempts to cash in on his celebrity, Brown hogs the comedy in this half with her Venezuelan accent and a macha swagger that doesn't quite square with anyone's worst picture of the real Lorena. As a targetless spoof, it's, well, satirically challenged.

* "Attack of the 5 Ft. 2 Women" premieres at 8 p.m. Sunday on Showtime.

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