"The Woman Chaser" is a minor diversion enlivened by some hilarious moments that above all serves as a potent big-screen calling card for Patrick Warburton, best known as Puddy from TV's "Seinfeld."
In "The Woman Chaser," which director Robinson Devor adapted from a 1960 pulp novel written by "Miami Blue's" Charles Willeford, Warburton is a burly, hairy-chested guy who looks like an ex-football player and sounds like a Phi Beta Kappa.
When we first see him, seated in a dark L.A. cocktail lounge, the film's noir style suggests that he's a private eye about to relate to us a crime caper in which he became involved. A Salvation Army lady (Pat Crowder) comes by his table with her tambourine in hand; eventually, we learn that by the time his donation adds up to $150, this woman, old enough to be his mother, has agreed to go to bed with him.
Warburton's Richard Hudson is in fact fixated on his own mother (Lynette Bennett), a former ballerina who works out every day and dedicates her life to preserving her youth. After a San Francisco sojourn, Richard has headed home to L.A., where he swiftly buys a used-car lot. He settles in the servant's quarters of the stately home his mother shares with his stepfather Leo (Paul Malevitz), a Hollywood producer on the skids.
Mother and son are so delighted to be reunited that Richard joins her in an impromptu pas de deux in her studio that is all the funnier because this massive man is so amazingly light on his feet. Leo in turn is pleased to have a moviegoing companion in Richard--they're seen under the Orpheum marquee, which proclaims "Hercules Unchained" and "Coming Soon: 'The Alamo.' "
All this moviegoing inspires Richard to want to write and direct his own movie, about a man driving a truck from San Francisco to L.A. who becomes a hit-and-run driver when he strikes a little girl. Hudson calls it "The Man Who Got Away." Can this incident actually have happened to Richard . . . ?
At this point "The Woman Chaser" switches into high gear, and Richard comes into full flower as a raging sociopath, a man who has no feeling for the women he easily seduces.
Richard is a spoiled, ruthless little boy in a man's body. Humorless and square, he is very bright and articulate but has a dangerously childlike innocence. Warburton easily traverses the full range of Richard's quick-changing moods, never missing an opportunity to reveal what's funny and what's cruel about him--often simultaneously. He's a monster whose fate rightly evokes irony rather than pity.
Devor has made the most of what surely must have been a modest budget. In addition to Warburton he draws vivid portrayals from, among others, Malevitz, whose Leo proves full of surprises; from Max Kerstein, as a veteran film editor who tries valiantly to get Richard in touch with reality; and from Ron Morgan as Richard's nerdy manager of his used-car business.
Resourceful cameraman Kramer Morgenthau, who worked miracles on "The Big Brass Ring," and meticulous production designer Sandrine Junod evoke 1960 L.A. faultlessly. Daniel Luppi's score helps establish the era as well as the mood.
For all of Warburton's prowess and Devor's energy and zeal, "The Woman Chaser" lacks the slam-bang style and authority of Samuel Fuller's "Shock Corridor" and "The Naked Kiss," two films that "The Woman Chaser" brings immediately to mind. "The Woman Chaser" is very much a first film, but a venturesome start for Devor as well as a splendid launch for Warburton.
* MPAA rating: R, for sexual content and some language. Times guidelines: language, adult themes and situations.
'The Woman Chaser'
Patrick Warburton: Richard Hudson
Paul Malevitz: Leo Steinberg
Ron Morgan: Bill
Max Kerstein: Ruggero
An Inwood Films release of a Tarmac Films production. Director Robinson Devor. Producer Soly Haim. Executive producer Joe McSpadden. Screenplay Devor; based on the novel by Charles Willeford. Cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau. Editor Mark Winitsky. Music Daniel Luppi. Production designer Sandrine Junod. Choreographer Babs Warden Lebowsky. Running time: 1 hour,27 minutes.
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