Over the years, Saturday Night Live has morphed from a relevant showcase for up-and-coming comedic talent and occasionally biting satire into a development laboratory for producer Lorne Michaels’ SNL Studios film division. The pattern is now firmly established: A one-dimensional character with a few easily imitated catchphrases is introduced in a sketch that exhausts all its comic possibilities in the first three minutes of its five minute running time. The character then returns week after week in painfully protracted reiterations of the original sketch. SNL fans chatting around the water cooler or at their local bar drive the catchphrases into the ground. When the time is ripe – i.e., when no sane person could possibly sit through even one more minute of the character’s exhausted antics – the feature film version of the sketch hits theaters. It’s a bizarre formula for success, and indeed many of the SNL spinoffs have been DOA at the box office. However, they’re cheap to make and apparently enough of them are profitable to allow the franchise to continue.
Which brings us to The Ladies Man. Following in the footsteps of Superstar‘s nerdy Catholic schoolgirl and A Night at the Roxbury‘s nerdy head-shaking guys, longtime SNL stalwart Tim Meadows brings his nerdy sex machine to the big screen. As with its predecessors, there’s really no reason for the movie to exist. It’s thinly conceived and conspicuously padded, but the underrated Meadows has certainly put in his time (better him than the execrable Goat Boy) and the results are cheerful enough.
Meadows stars as Leon Phelps, host of the overnight radio call-in show "The Ladies Man." The sweet-natured but smutty-mouthed Leon dispenses advice to the lovelorn in a Mike Tyson lisp and garbled syntax far removed from the mellifluous baritone associated with love gods of yore. (See the collected works of Barry White.) Leon’s callers tend to hang up in anger or frustration, since the Ladies Man rarely listens to what they actually say ("That sounds good" is his patented catchphrase, delivered in response to even the most dire expressions of heartbreak) and his advice often revolves around anal sex as cure-all. When one FCC violation too many pushes Leon over the line, he and his producer Julie (Karyn Parsons) are fired by the station manager (Eugene Levy, in an uninspired change of pace).
Leon retreats to his two primary hangouts: Lester’s Straight-Up Lounge, his neighborhood bar, and the Skanktuary, his houseboat (which resembles a cross between a 70’s pimp den and Pee Wee’s Playhouse). At Lester’s he hooks up with a fine lady who invites him back to her place, but his booty call is interrupted when her husband returns early. Vowing revenge, the cuckold joins a vigilante group comprised of similarly wronged men headed by Greco-Roman wrestling enthusiast Lance (Will Ferrell). The VSA – or Victims of the Smiling Ass – are determined to track down the man who’s slept with all their wives. A man identified only by the smiley face tattoo on his right buttock. Yes, the Ladies Man.
Alas, while this narrative clearly rivals the works of Victor Hugo in its scope and breadth, it’s still not sufficient to fill out an eighty minute running time. Some of the filler – a musical number performed by the VSA, for instance – is enjoyable enough, but an extended gross-out sequence involving increasingly inedible bar food, from pickled eggs to hog balls, bears the stench of desperation. Still, though his character’s possibilities are pretty much expended by the time the opening credits are over, Meadows remains a likable presence throughout. His Leon is so delighted with himself and so blissfully unaware of his own foolishness, he makes even the weakest material relatively painless to sit through. Fellow SNL-er Will Ferrell does his best with another one-joke character, while Billy Dee Williams sends up his smooth-as-Colt-45 image as bar proprietor Lester and Tiffani Thiessen provides five minutes worth of eye candy as one of Leon’s old flames.
Calling The Ladies Man one of the least grating Saturday Night Live movies may be the most tepid praise imaginable, but that’s the best it’s going to get. The depressing thing is, by the time this one hits video stores en route to its final resting place on late night cable, Lorne Michaels will no doubt have inflicted yet another piece of assembly line comedy product upon us. Earlier this year, press reports made Mike Myers out to be a kook for pulling the plug on his own SNL spinoff, Dieter. From this vantage point, he looks more like a hero.