|© 2008 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.
Shown at the 1999 New York Film Festival, THE WOMAN CHASER proved to be
nothing short of a disappointment. Shot in color and transferred to a luminous black and white
and set in the Los Angeles of the early 1960s, the movie was an attempt to fashion a
postmodern film noir that never quite achieved its potential. First-time feature director
Robinson Devor (who previously shot a documentary on L.A. icon, wannabe starlet Angelyne)
adapted his script from a 1960 novel by Charles Willeford and he deserves credit for
maintaining a singular tone throughout the piece. While some minor cuts have been made
to the film since its festival runs (THE WOMAN CHASER also screened at Sundance,
Seattle and the South by Southwest Film Festivals, among others), this skewed spoof of the
hard-boiled detective films married with a behind-the-scenes deconstruction of the filmmaking
process, replete with deadpan narration and eccentric characters, never fully realizes its
lofty goals. Call it a succès d’estime, but only if you set your sights low.
In a blow for the average guy, beefy Patrick Warburton (best remembered as Elaine's
mechanic boyfriend Puddy on the NBC sitcom Seinfeld) plays the title character, Richard
Hudson, a smooth-talking used car salesman who also has an unusually successful track
record with the ladies, including a Salvation Army matron. After spending his days foisting
off lemons on unsuspecting buyers, Hudson passes time with his bizarre mother, an aging
coquette who fancies herself a ballerina (there was a hilarious segment of the pair executing
a pas de deux), his stepfather Leo Steinberg, a washed-up movie maker and his nubile
hot-to-trot stepsister whom he decides to induct in the ways of love.
One day, Richard experiences an epiphany and decides (like many in the City of
Angels) that what he really wants to do is direct -- movies. Calling in favors from his stepfather
he sets out to make a film, eventually becoming obsessed with creating a masterwork -- a
drama called THE MAN WHO GOT AWAY about a truck driver who accidentally runs down
a young girl. Pouring all his efforts and most of his energies (he manages to find time for
amorous encounters), Richard Hudson becomes almost a man obsessed. Nothing will deter
him from achieving his artistic statement and his striving to craft the great American movie.
When unforeseen circumstances intervene, he sets out to exact revenge.
A key problem with the film is that the lead character is such a reprobate the audience
does not really identify with him, so the investment in his magnum opus and his subsequent
tailspin are not engrossing. Warburton does what he can with the role but the character of
Richard Hudson lacks empathy. He is arrogant, self-absorbed and completely unlikable. It is
not that a film cannot be built around such a character, it just that THE WOMAN CHASER is
all surface. Granted it's a terrific surface as Devor shows an eye for composition and manages
to make contemporary Los Angeles pass for the long gone one of forty years ago. But with
today's celebrity-driven culture, the trials and tribulations of a failed filmmaker don't exactly
resonate. The comedy is unfortunately intermittent and frequently falls flat. Kudos should go
to the expert cinematography of Kramer Morganthau, the period recreation of production
designer Sandrine Junod and the yeoman effort of lead actor Patrick Warburton.
Rating: C -
Running time: 90 mins.
MPAA rating: NONE