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'Tomcats' is just another formula film about guys on the make

Friday, March 30, 2001

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Movie Critic

Like certain diseases, dumb young horny males -- and films about them -- are detectable early on. Smart ones, complex ones, etc., have no reliable pathological pattern. But the truly stupid ones can be identified in four to six minutes by a foolproof symptom: The Bet. A wager over who'll be the first or last to bed or wed a chick or chicks. A guy-thing theme with post-Pygmalion variations, usually about turning ugly ducklings into prom queens.


RATING: R for strong sexual content and language

STARRING: Jerry O'Connell, Shannon Elizabeth, Jake Busey, Horatio Sanz, Jaime Pressly

DIRECTOR: Gregory Poirier




Chief among the strict plot rules that you can be prosecuted for violating is the presence of one (embryonically) "sensitive" bettor -- Our Hero -- who gets his regrets, his comeuppance and his girl in the end. The unabridged list of such movies is as thick as the Yellow Pages, and the screenplays just as suspenseful.

Textbook example at hand is "Tomcats," one of the less charming such animals to crawl out of the celluloid litterbox. Our Hero is Michael (Jerry O'Connell), a free-lance cartoonist who has run up a $50,000 casino debt and, lest he sleep with the fishes for not paying off, must win the big jackpot bucks in escrow from an old bet with his pals on who'd be the last to get married. Since he and Kyle (Jake Busey) are the only single ones left, Michael has to get Kyle married to old-flame Natalie (Shannon Elizabeth) in 30 days.

It's a tough mission, since Busey -- spittin' image of Gary -- is the world's greatest confirmed male-chauvinist-piggy bachelor. Not even the amputation of a testicle slows down this dreadful character's dreadful womanizing or the dreadful script's most dreadful scene in which -- at Kyle's request -- O'Connell ("Mission to Mars," "Jerry Maguire") tries to retrieve the removed body part but drops the ball, so to speak, and chases it in high slapstick fashion down the hospital corridors.

Writer-director Gregory Poirier peppers the proceedings with such dubious yuks and with Playboy bunny types as extras -- recruited online, we are told, from a casting director's Web site that got three million hits. It's Poirier's directorial debut, but his outtakes during the final credits are funnier than most of his in-takes.

Now that the economy under Dubya is going down the porcelain facility, I have a superb cost-cutting idea for future makers of such movies in need of streamlining their budgets: Since the female characters are all sex-object stereotypes, there's no need to hire expensive actresses. No need, in the high-tech 21st century, to hire actresses at all. A combination of party dolls and animatronics will do the job nicely. They're cheaper, easier to direct and require no coddling, personal hairdressers or top billing. They don't require any billing -- a producer's dream!

You're skeptical? Keep in mind that leading men in this genre aren't the brightest or most discriminating males on earth: As long as such virtual girls are anatomically correct, these boys will never notice the difference.

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