[Screen It]


(2001) (Jerry O'Connell, Shannon Elizabeth) (R)

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Comedy: Years after he and his friends made a bet where the last bachelor among them would win a nearly half million-dollar kitty, a man hopes to collect the money -- to pay off a gambling debt -- by setting up his womanizing friend with a woman from his past.
At a friend's wedding, confirmed bachelor Michael Delaney (JERRY O'CONNELL) and his friends set up a monthly bet about who would be the last unattached man among them. Now, seven years later, only Michael and Kyle Brenner (JAKE BUSEY) remain single, and it looks like it might be a long while before either man breaks.

After Michael racks up a $51,000 debt to casino boss Carlos (BILL MAHER) while trying to impress a buxom beauty, and only has a month to pay it back, he suddenly realizes he could use the bet money that's now grown to nearly a half million dollar kitty. The only problem is, Kyle's a rich and chronic womanizer. Michael realizes, however, that if he can find the one and only woman Kyle ever felt anything for, he might be able to get himself out of his predicament.

That woman turns out to be Natalie Parker (SHANNON ELIZABETH), an undercover vice-squad detective who lost her virginity to Kyle several years earlier on a one-night stand. Still wanting revenge, Natalie agrees to Michael's plan, but only if she gets half the money. From that point on, and as the guys' other friend, Steve (HORATIO SANZ), wonders how they'll pull it off all while dealing with growing suspicions that his wife, Tricia (JAIME PRESSLY), may be a lesbian, Michael and Natalie try to get Kyle to fall for her and then deal with the various repercussions of that and other events that transpire in their lives.

OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
How ironic that the day after Hollywood honored its best films and talent with it annual Academy Awards ceremony, the "highlights" of the next film screened for local critics contained scenes featuring a man having sex with a woman as she vomits out a car window, a visit to the sperm donor clinic, and a character chasing an elusive and recently surgically removed testicle through a hospital where it eventually ends up being mistaken for a bonbon by an unknowing diner.

Yes, the Oscars occur in the middle of one of Hollywood's traditional dumping ground seasons, but the contrast between last year's finest work and the first release from former Disney head Joe Roth's Revolution Studios couldn't be more striking.

To be fair, it's highly unlikely that anyone associated with the film had any intention of making an Oscar-caliber picture. Instead, they opted to revisit the longstanding sex comedy, established long ago by the likes of "Porky's," a genre that will always be around as long as teenagers and young men have hormones racing through their bodies and minds.

Of course, the old T&A show has recently morphed with the gross out comedy popularized by the likes of the Farrelly brothers resulting in pictures such as "American Pie" that combine sex and scatological material for the "viewing pleasure" of their target audience of those hormonally charged viewers. With the release of "Tomcats," this new "tradition" now continues in this occasionally funny but otherwise poorly made film.

The basic premise does have some potential, although it's rather limited and clearly doesn't stray far from the formula. One seriously in-debt man hopes to win a long-standing bet - where the last remaining bachelor among a group of friends will collect a nearly half million-dollar kitty - by getting the only other bachelor - a raging womanizer - to fall for and then marry a woman. She, of course, is one of the womanizer's previous conquests and an undercover vice-squad cop who wants her revenge.

One can then imagine a whole slew of amusing, funny and hopefully hilarious setups and payoffs stemming from such a premise. Unfortunately, writer/director Gregory Poirier, who makes his directorial debut after writing the scripts for films such as "Gossip," "Rosewood" and "See Spot Run," has opted to use that underlying story as a loose - and I mean loose - skeleton upon which to have the various gross out and sex-related moments.

Granted, some of them are funny in their own right - to varying degrees and dependent, of course, on one's age and sex - and the film's target audience will undoubtedly eat up the various gags and repeated sights of scantily clad women - some of which are previous Playboy centerfolds - although a great deal of the actual nudity is displayed by men.

To Poirier's credit, the film is a bit smarter than your average sex or gross out comedy as he's injected various fantasy and spoof sequences into the proceedings that at least show some degree of above the belt thinking was involved. That said, they certainly don't make this a sophisticated comedy by any stretch of the imagination and the various spoof and other zany bits - including poking fun at the likes of "Mission: Impossible 2" and "American Beauty" - clearly aren't as clever or successful as the works of Jim Abrahams and Jerry and David Zucker of "Airplane" and "Naked Gun" fame.

As a result, and considering the variety of comedic attempts Poirier has used, it often feels as if the director has taken something of a shotgun blast approach in trying to elicit laughs, knowing or hoping that some shots will inevitably hit the target.

While some work despite being predictable - including a Viagra-inspired erection scene and at least the beginning of the aforementioned testicle on the loose sequence that's a throwback to the screwball comedies of yesteryear where an object is repeatedly kicked and otherwise unknowingly or accidentally moved just out of a person's reach - others don't due to their overall inanity, predictable nature and/or lack of novelty -- including a long sequence featuring a meek librarian who actually turns out to be a dominatrix.

What makes the film seem so reckless and haphazard is that most of those gags are of the standalone variety and are barely connected to the main plot that's rather weak and predictable itself. Of course, Poirier could have tied them more closely to the story - such as having an already present casino boss threatening to cut off the protagonist's testicles over his gambling debt, thus giving that character more empathy toward them and his buddy who's just had one surgically removed - but that's rarely the case.

One of the film's biggest problems is that little imagination went into the efforts that Michael and Natalie take in trying to set up Kyle with the former to win the bet, and her attempts to get revenge on him. The two spy on him a bit and - surprise, surprise - begin to fall for each other, but little if any of what they do is funny or clever, thus further emphasizing the fact that more attention was paid into mounting the vignettes rather than the film as a whole.

Not surprisingly, the performances are pretty much rote for a film like this, with few of the characters being likable, let alone realistic. While Jerry O'Connell ("Mission to Mars," "Body Shots") plays the protagonist with the appropriate amount of zaniness, his character just doesn't work that well. Jake Busey ("Starship Troopers," "Contact") is credible - in a comedic fashion - as a womanizing lug, but isn't as hilarious as one might expect had some more imaginative thought gone into creating and portraying the character.

Shannon Elizabeth ("Scary Music," "American Pie") can't really do much with her character whose motivation is decidedly insipid and indecisive, while Horatio Sanz ("Road Trip," TV's "Saturday Night Live") and Jaime Pressly ("Joe Dirt," "Ringmaster") appear in a running and unoriginal gag about a husband seemingly misinterpreting the silhouetted views of his wife and other women as implying lesbianism.

Certain to appease and entertain many members of its target audience who will no doubt think this is greatest thing since sliced bread, the film has a few amusing and occasionally hilarious moments, but isn't thought out or constructed well enough to make it a noteworthy entry in the genre. While some of its individual, gross out moments will probably be remembered, the film itself is too easily forgotten. Accordingly, "Tomcats" rates as a 3.5 out of 10.

Reviewed March 26, 2001 / Posted March 30, 2001

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