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movie review out of 4 Movie Review: Ringmaster

Starring: Jerry Springer, Jaime Pressly
Director: Neil Abramson
Rated: R
RunTime: 90 Minutes
Release Date: November 1998
Genre: Comedy

*Also starring: Michael Dudikoff, Michael Jai White, Molly Hagan

Review by Edward Johnson-Ott
1 star out of 4

The best thing I can say about "Jerry Springer: Ringmaster" is this: It's not as bad as it sounds. Thankfully, the story spends relatively little time with the slimy Mr. Springer, focusing instead on the comically lurid stories of two groups of people who end up as guests on his daytime trash- talk show. Unfortunately, Springer is the star of the movie, so viewers are subjected to shots of a shirtless Jerry flexing his (ahem) muscles in front of a mirror, Jerry having sex (under the covers, thank God), Jerry half-singing a country tune in a honky-tonk bar, and Jerry delivering one of the most phony, self-serving speeches in the history of B-movies.

While making the rounds promoting his show, his book and this film, Springer's defensive strategy has been to beat potentially hostile journalists to the punch. "Of course I have no talent," he says with a hapless puppy-dog smile. He freely admits that his show is nothing but a circus, telling an Entertainment Weekly reporter "Look, if I'm Satan, then we're all okay - - because then Satan ain't that bad."

Springer isn't Satan. He's just another sorry huckster, shamelessly exploiting poor, undereducated people. It's easy to sneer at Springer's guests, but who is worse; those willing to sacrifice their privacy and dignity in exchange for a free trip to the big city and a few minutes in front of a camera or the guy who pays for their tickets?

People who watch Springer regularly will be happy to hear that the movie captures the bizarro spirit of his "Too Hot For TV" videos, with fightin', cussin' and bare breasts galore, plus a few sex scenes to boot. Those dragged to the movie will be relieved to know that it's surprisingly entertaining on a "guilty pleasure" level.

"Ringmaster" takes a farcical look at two dysfunctional couples and their friends. Connie (Molly Hagan) works in a Florida donut shop. She suspects that while she's away, her current husband Rusty (Michael Dudikoff) and her 19 year old daughter Angel (Jaime Pressly) are having an affair. She's right. When not boinking her naïve, dim-witted fiancée, Willie (Ashley Holbrook), and the male guests of the motel where she works as a maid, Angel indeed is sleeping with her stepdaddy. When Connie catches Rusty and Angel, she does what any self-respecting mother would do: she seduces Willie to get even, hollers at her husband and daughter, then snags a booking for the whole group on Jerry's show.

Meanwhile, Starletta (Wendy Raquel Robinson) is livid. Her boyfriend Demond (Michael Jai White) is having an affair with her best friend, Vonda (Tangie Ambrose), not long after she caught him with Leshawnette (Nicki Micheaux), another gal-pal. Again, using that special wisdom that comes only to people who believe professional wrestling is real, she decides the best way to handle the situation is to go on Jerry's show and confront the wrongdoers on national television.

Once in L.A. for the show, all the characters meet up in a hotel the night prior to taping, with predictably lusty and combative results. The next day, they go to the studio for their fateful encounter with the geekmaster and all hell breaks loose, even before the inevitable on-air fistfights.

It's all plays like a sprawling, unusually spirited episode of "Three's Company," except these people actually get laid. While most of the cast are just strident stereotypes, a few manage to humanize their characters, with Molly Hagan a stand-out as competitive mother Connie. She invests the character with a survivor quality that makes her manic behavior almost understandable.

The most annoying moment in the film comes when an audience member verbally attacks the guests for degrading themselves and Springer jumps to their defense, making an impassioned, pathetic speech about the show being a forum for the "little people," allowing them the same moment in the sun that rich celebrities enjoy everyday. His righteous tirade is so irritating that it made me wish I could slip past his bodyguards and take a poke at the pompous ass myself.

Don't pay to see "Ringmaster." Sure, it has more than its share of fun moments, but wait until the movie hits cable, because every ticket you buy puts a little more money in the pants' pocket of Jerry Springer. And you really don't want anything of yours to end up in Jerry Springer's pants, do you?

Copyright © 1998 Edward Johnson-Ott

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