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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 Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

Christian Slater confesses that at one point in his life he was so high on cocaine that he almost committed suicide. Robert Downey, Jr. is busted once again for cocaine use. No problem. Not only does public notice of infractions embarrass the rich and famous not a whit: but Mr. Slater had no problem getting the starring role in both the movie "Very Bad Things" and the Broadway play "Side Man" while Mr. Downey may do very bad things with Annette Bening in the upcoming "In Dreams."

In an interview relating to his current film "Celebrity," Woody Allen cautions that far fewer than 1% of us will ever be luminaries. The usual rules don't apply to them. They get busted, they get written up in the tabloids, no problem. When ordinary people are caught doing naughty things, they pay a heavy price. So why would so many ordinary people would give their lateral incisors for a chance to appear on the Jerry Springer show, to make fools of themselves fist-fighting and hairpulling their adversaries in front of 25 million people? That's the question that must be in the mind of every viewer who eavesdrops on the two sets of contestants who are chosen among the thousands of other prosaic people writing in to the station begging to be interviewed by the nation's leading daytime talk show host. By the time the movie is over we don't quite get a handle on the why, but we see more than we want to know of the what and how. In "Ringmaster," Jerry Springer plays Jerry Farrelly, a thinly disguised version of himself, a handsome, dignified man who looks more like someone chosen to replace David Susskind than a guy who acts as the moderator of a veritable circus of clownish pugilists. If a Martian came to town (presuming that only someone from another planet has never seen the TV show) he'd wonder how such a decent-looking, almost prosaic dude ever got to surpass Oprah in the ratings in such a display of lowbrow antics.

The story focuses primarily on trailer folks living near Tampa, Florida, the 19-year-old Angel (Jaime Pressly) and her 34-year-old mother, Connie (Molly Hagan). We're not surprised that they compete for the same men, given the ridiculously small age difference. No sooner does Angel turn her back on her unemployed second husband Rusty (Michael Dudikoff) then Rusty and his stepdaughter Connie are at it. When Connie discovers the liaison, she doesn't throw the two cheaters out. She gets her revenge by pursuing an affair with Angel's slow-witted boyfriend Willie (Ashley Holbrook) and by conning the three of them to join her on the Jerry show where they can let out their frustrations in the most public way possible.

The film also features an African-American quartet due to appear on the following day: Demond (Michael Jai White) who strays from his girl friend Starlette (Wendy Raquel) by being involved with Vonda (Tangie Ambrose) and Leshawnette (Nicki Micheaux). With all these characters and a handful of producers to deal with, movie director Neil Abramson scarcely has time to spotlight Jerry himself, though we do get to hear a summing up of the showman's entire philosophy when an audience member challenges the nature of the TV program.

A good deal of the movie is downright gross, particularly in the very beginning when two well-endowed women tongue kiss with each other and join their mutual boyfriend on his lap to the wild cheers of the young, working-class peanut gallery. While the black women are portrayed as absolute stereotypes--singing and dancing on the flight to L.A., shrieking and fighting and bonding and dissing their shared boy friend--Molly Hagan turns out the one sentimental performance. She's 34, she has a trashy daughter who, in her motel job, is prepared to be Monica Lewinsky to any guest looking for a good time, and she must put forth all her charm to get affection from the men in her life who think that 19 marks the limit of a girl's attractiveness. She runs a small concession near her trailer, perhaps depending on her daughter to bring home enough to survive while at the same time seething with resentment at playing second fiddle to Angel. For his part, Jerry uses the film to show, albeit in patronizing way, how he is at once above all the brawling and yet wants to give a regular slice of America a chance for 15 minutes of fame--or infamy. Counterattacking an audience member who could be a backer of the religious right and who calls the contestants scum, Jerry launches a defense: "This is a slice of American life, and if you don't like it, bite something else." He seems truly to think that he is giving a well-earned break to people who would go through life unsung and unacclaimed were it not for their broadly televised display of dirty laundry.

All of this encourages me to make a confession. I am the only adult American who has never seen the Jerry Springer show. The movie does not influence me to hang around on any afternoon to see even a single episode. Yet I liked this film for the vigor of the guests, for the abandon with which they stake their claim to ignominy, for an understanding of the emotional gap that influences these middle Americans to give Jerry a call even if their only material gain will be their first plane trip, their first stay in a first-class hotel, their first time away on vacation with their contentious families.

Copyright 1998 Harvey Karten

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