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Meet Wally Sparks

Rated R, 105 min. Directed by Peter Baldwin. Starring Rodney Dangerfield, Debi Mazar, David Ogden Stiers, Cindy Williams, Burt Reynolds, Alan Rachins.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Feb. 7, 1997

What’s up with Rodney Dangerfield? His latter-day film career seems intent on turning his famed comedy routine about getting “no respect” into some kind of precocious epitaph. His recent movie projects such as Ladybugs and Meet Wally Sparks have the rancid smell of self-destructive wish fulfillment. At issue is not the lowbrow humor of Wally Sparks. (Were the movie to be judged on a sheer quantity scale, Dangerfield’s torrent of one-liners as lead character Wally Sparks would make the movie an Olympic contender.) What is at issue here is the quality of the moviemaking, that organizing structure into which are poured all those gags and ribald remarks. In Meet Wally Sparks, that structure is flimsy to non-existent. Although the movie seizes on a plot device – the sleazy pandering of TV talk shows – that’s topical as hell, it doesn’t really do much of anything with the premise, and for that matter, doesn’t show signs of the scriptwriters (Dangerfield and Harry Basil) being terribly attentive to the format while doing their homework. Meet Wally Sparks is a free-for-all collection of Dangerfield one-liners (many of them amusing), propped up by a chaotic narrative farce and maudlin pauses for emotional exchanges. Following a long television career as a respected sitcom director, Peter Baldwin has not succeeded in making the transition to film. Most of Wally Sparks is tediously shot, with the antic mayhem unfolding in a constipated and transparently blocked-out manner. Debi Mazar’s brashness provides a good foil for Dangerfield’s oafish smart-aleck routine, and David Ogden Stiers brings an unmatched three-dimensionality to the portrayal of his character. Interestingly, Burt Reynolds here continues his past year’s return to movies with the portrait of yet another oily figure (add his Wally Sparks TV network executive to the borderline sleazeballs he portrays in Striptease and Citizen Ruth). But nothing in this ugly movie prepares us for the sight of Cindy Williams, as the plump and drunk Spring Byington spawn, stripping down to her underwires in a Wally Sparks-inspired poker game in the governor’s mansion. The movie is also punctuated with a riot-squad worth of cameo appearances (Tony Danza, Jay Leno, Gilbert Gottfried, Julia Sweeney, Roseanne, Bob Saget, Lesley Anne Down, Sir Mix-a Lot, Sally Jesse Raphael, Geraldo Rivera, Morton Downey, Jr.), but most of them probably woke up hating themselves in the morning. If nothing I’ve said so far has induced you to give the cold shoulder to Meet Wally Sparks, heed this: Michael Bolton sings.
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