Views & Reviews: The Ladies Man

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Views & Reviews        

Freak Out

Pity the poor Lothario. There is no place for him in the twenty-first century. The smooth operator of James Bond movies and ’70s blaxploitation flicks, redolent of musk and cognac, has been crushed — sqqquish! — by the stiletto heels of Sarah Jessica Parker of HBO’s Sex and the City. The year 2000’s Shaft was a label whore in Armani leather who didn’t seduce a single woman into his bed in the whole damn movie.


Where has all the Old Spice gone? That’s what I was thinking when I went to go see the Saturday Night Live-derived comedy The Ladies Man. I’ve seen a few of Tim Meadows’ SNL sketches, whence Reginald Hudlin’s movie was derived. In those bits, always funnier in conception than in execution, Meadows played Leon Phelps, the lisping host of a call-in show, offering his unique brand of romantic advice to the lovelorn, along the lines of, “I recommend you try it up the butt.” With his foot-high afro, flower-print clothes and snifter of Courvoisier, he was an over-the-top caricature of the swinging-’70s casanova.


Still, the joke went, Leon spoke with the well-oiled voice of Wilt Chamberlain-esque experience — that is, as one who had allegedly bedded thousands of women — and the coarseness and crassness of his advice was part of the intended humor.


So what a disappointment it is to learn in the film version of The Ladies Man that Leon is . . . a loser. One might have suspected this all along watching the SNL sketches, but before we hadn’t had the privilege of an extended look at Leon’s life outside the show. And once we’re confronted with ninety minutes of evidence that he isn’t the player he thinks he is, Leon’s hubristic charm and funny one-liners fall weirdly flat. We dread the moment they come out of his mouth, and we want to stop him in the act.


Is it possible? Watching this movie, the viewer actually begins to . . . pity Leon. And pity is rat poison to comedy.


However, the Ladies Man did have better days, as barkeep Billy Dee Williams relates in a flashback. With Hugh Hefner as the model for his adoptive father, little orphan Leon grows up in a Playboy Mansion–like setting with an appreciation for the finer things in life. Later thrown out onto the streets after being caught in bed with one of Daddy’s bunnies, Leon now makes his living as a radio show host. But soon into the movie, he’s unemployed, having gotten himself and his producer Julie (Karyn Parsons) fired from the radio station after too many listener complaints about vulgar language. The bar he now frequents is a sorry dive. The local denizens think little of his ability to pick up women. Julie calls the “yacht” where he lives a “floating trailer park.” Even the mailman looks down on him: “Here’s a telegram: The ’70s are over. Stop,” he mocks, tossing his letters to the ground.


Poor Leon. What women respect and men envy in present-day Chicago is not, as it turns out, a bodacious ’70s bachelor pad on a small boat called the “Skank-tuary,” filled with cologne and pleather and lubricants such as “Pina Colada Butt Lotion,” a water bed with motorized shelves and lighting that goes from Disco to Down-Low at the press of a nipple-shaped button or even such fine pick-up lines as, “Was your father a meat burgler? ‘Cause it looks like someone stole two fine hams and stuffed them down the back of your dress” and “Would you like a fish sandwich?”


One would have thought Tim Meadows would have understood the futility of trying to turn sketches into feature-length films after other SNL movie-adaptation disasters like A Night at the Roxbury and It’s Pat! I’m as big a fan of gutter humor as the next movie-goer, but The Ladies Man wants to win points by merely uttering the dirty word, not doing anything clever with it. Hence, the preponderance of undressed lines in which Leon professes his fondness for “sticking it up da butt.”


In order to flesh out the two-dimensional character of Leon, script writers Meadows, Dennis McNicholas and Andrew Steele have put the once-glorious — and still oblivious — Ladies Man in his sorry state. Yet, inexplicably, he still manages to attract a few ladies throughout the film, including one former lover, who writes to him in a letter of her nostalgia for their one passionate one night stand in a laundromat and, not coincidentally, her newfound wealth. However, the letter is only signed, “Your ‘Sweet Thing’,” a term of affection Leon uses for everyone, so off he goes on a city-wide goose chase, backtracking through his not-so-little black book, to find her. In the process, as ex-lover after ex-lover slaps or throws a drink in his face, he soon realizes that all he ever wanted was the devoted woman right there beside him — Julie.


Meanwhile, however, Leon’s past catches up with him as all his ex-lovers’ boyfriends and husbands track him down, seeking revenge, through the course of the movie. They are the “Victims of the Smiling Ass,” an emasculated Fight Club-style self-help group led by SNL comedian Will Ferrell. (Leon, as it turns out, has a tattoo of a smiling face and the words “Have a Nice Day” on his right buttock — invariably the last sight the shocked cuckold sees as the Ladies Man makes his escape.) At one point in the film, the men break for a fey and inane musical number about manliness. I’ll give Meadows credit for an unexpected break in format, but it’s also a joke that one tires of after the first few seconds, especially since the lyrics are so unoriginal — flat paeans to their own virility.


Whatever their definition of manliness, these guys just don’t get it. But of course this movie isn’t about recovering manliness, even for the Ladies Man. As he himself says to Julie, at last, “I am tired of being the Ladies Man.” In his confrontation with the cuckolded men at film’s end, he informs them in a heart-warming speech that all their wives and girlfriends ever really wanted was what they refused to provide: sexual satisfaction.


Who’da thunk it? The modern-day Ladies Man actually turns out to be . . . John Gray.

Albert Lee and, Inc.