The Woman Chaser
1999, R, 87 min. Directed by Robinson Devor. Starring Patrick Warburton, Emily Newman, Lynette Bennett, Ron Morgan, Ernie Vincent, Paul Malevich.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Aug. 4, 2000
Some films are so far from left field that you end up with a crick in your neck for a week after watching them. The Woman Chaser falls (plummets, actually) squarely in that category, a rousingly bizarre, neo-retro melange of circa-1960 tough-guy noirisms and just plain addled bits that almost -- but not quite -- recall some of David Lynch's more obscure moments. If first-time director Devor's film was a person, it'd be starring in one of those quaint little antacid advertisements from the late Fifties, the ones that featured a cutaway human body with little bongo drums for corpuscles and a mambo rhythm beating out the plinkety-plinking heartbeat. It's a real gone flick, daddy-o. What's more interesting than all the strenuous aping of film styles gone past is the script's pedigree. First-time writer-director Devor adapted the script from a novel by hard-boiled author Charles Willeford (other Willeford adaptations include the Alec Baldwin vehicle Miami Blues and Monte Hellman's surreal Cockfighter). It seems obvious that Devor was taken with Willeford's stogies-and-rye prose from the get-go; what doesn't jibe is the director's tone in handling this big, black-and-white slab of Americana dyspepsia. I'll assume the original idea here was to create a loving parody of those old noir classics where the men were men and the dames were as likely to be on the receiving end of a knuckle sandwich as a rough-justice smackeroo. There's a hint of Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid to the film, but just when you feel safe laughing, Devor confounds your innards and sends the film spiraling into either the brutal or the banal or, sometimes, the just plain weird. Matters aren't made any clearer by the casting of Warburton (Seinfeld's ungainly Puddy) in the role of firecracker car salesman Richard Hudson. And it really doesn't help matters to have Puddy, uh, I mean Warburton, narrate the whole film in a flat, clipped, Sam Spade monotone -- laugh or cry? I wasn't sure and I'm willing to wager I won't be the only one. Hudson, sick of the slow track provided by rooking rubes on the lot, moves from San Francisco to Los Angeles and promptly gets bit by the movie bug. His wild idea (and in this film all the ideas are wild) is to create a film based on a dream he's had about a trucker who runs over a little girl and then takes it on the lam -- The Man Who Got Away, he calls it. With help from his father-in-law and Mr. Big at Mammoth Studios (“We make big pictures!”), Hudson actually manages to wring it all out of his tortured psyche, but somewhere along the line he loses his mind, and takes to uttering dialogue along the lines of this: “I felt as though I was an unreal person creating a reality that might become unreal if I didn't keep my eyes open every single second.” Whew! You and me both, bub. It's impossible to take anything seriously with Warburton's rocky mug at the helm, and I fear for the diversity of this otherwise fine actor's career in the wake of Puddy. Devor's film, too, is a contradiction in styles: too funny (unintentionally or otherwise) to be taken seriously, and too steeped in the tradition of film noir to be entertaining any other way. (The Woman Chaser screened previously in Austin during the SXSW Film Festival.)