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Robinson Devor's adaptation of Charles Willeford's novel The Woman Chaser teeters between pulp psychodrama and a parody thereof. You might say the same of the novel, but the film is a more labored exercise in noirish style. Patrick Warburton (once Elaine's boyfriend on Seinfeld) plays Richard Hudson, a used-car salesman who decides to make his life more meaningful by directing a movie. Warburton looks like a beefier Oliver Stone, which gives an extra frisson to the scenes where he's hunkered down over his editing equipment or banging his leading lady to get her in the mood for some emoting. She's one of a half-dozen faded, brain-dead bottle blonds whom Hudson beds in The Woman Chaser—ranging from his horny teenage stepsister to an alcoholic Salvation Army granny—but the film isn't sexy or even lewd, merely grotesque. In the oedipal pièce de résistance, Richard strips off his shirt and dances a pas de deux with his mom, a former ballet dancer who still tiptoes around in a tutu. As Warburton propels his decidedly earthbound body through a series of grande jetés, you have to admire his guts, while wondering what kind of film his director thought he was making. At various times, The Woman Chaser suggests Ben Hecht's The Spectre of the Rose, a Curtis Harrington mood piece, and various underground flicks from Edgar G. Ulmer's Detour to Irving Lerner's Murder by Contract.

Fight the power: Jamal Joseph in Public Enemy
photo: Human Rights Watch International Film Festival
Fight the power: Jamal Joseph in Public Enemy

Details

Human Rights Watch
International Film Festival

Walter Reade Theater
Through June 29

The Woman Chaser
Written and directed by Robinson Devor, from the novel by Charles Willeford
A Tarmac release
Through June 29

Devor has the film noir conventions down cold—the low-angled close-ups, the high-contrast lighting—but the effect of printing black and white on color stock is too slick and prettified for the cheesy world of car lots and dank stucco houses. The Woman Chaser looks less like a '50s noir (or even a neo-noir) than a noir-styled TV commercial; the queasiness it makes you feel is more like acid reflux than existential nausea. The cast is largely made up of small-time TV actors with faces like one-liners. The most amazing visage belongs to Joe Durrenberger, who plays a former army sergeant hired to manage Richard's dealership. Durrenberger looks like a cartoon that was started by one artist and finished by another. The irresolvable contradiction between his flat-top hair and the bulbous curve of his cheeks is the most memorable thing in the movie.

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