Tomcats (2001)


By Ben Varkentine

I Don't Know Why

Tomcats is not just a bad film, it is an actually evil one, and I don’t think it’s just the fact that I saw it a couple of seats down from right-wing film critic Michael Medved that makes me want to be all judgmental, to the point of being almost Republican or religious fanatic about it (although, because I have seen Tomcats—so you don’t have to—I am a couple of steps ahead of the Republicans and religious fanatics who protest films they haven’t even seen). Tomcats is a morally reprehensible film about bad people behaving badly.

The story, if such a little piece of nothing can be called that, revolves around a bet made by college buddies: each contributes some money, one of them invests it, and the “last man standing” (still single) wins the pot. Comes the day when there are only two of them left, Michael (Jerry O’Connell) and Kyle (Jake Busey). Michael has recently become extra-motivated by the fact that he owes a casino a debt that the cash will, coincidentally, just about cover. So he seeks out the one girl whom Kyle says he ever even considered getting serious about, Natalie (Shannon Elizabeth), hoping to enlist her to entrap his buddy. She agrees for reasons of her own but (and here’s a twist you’ll never see coming), she and Michael find themselves attracted to each other. We are invited to find Michael morally superior to Kyle because he is—supposedly—the sensitive artist type, while his friend is just another sex-seeking “stud.” Kyle is a man who will not stop having sex with a woman even if she becomes physically ill. But Michael is a man willing to try to get a woman to marry a man who hurt her badly, just so he can profit financially. So I’d say they’re about even.

The movie’s running time is padded out with irrelevant (as though the rest of the movie has any relevance to anything) subplots involving one of the other “tomcats,” a proctologist who suspects his wife of having affairs with women, and Michael’s run-in with a woman who turns out to be a dominatrix. The punch-lines of both of these plots (the dominatrix’s identity, the resolution of the proctologist’s problem) are given away in the TV ads, blowing the “surprise” of the “jokes.” I don’t mind so much that these jokes were offensive, although I did find myself making mental lists of those groups likely to be offended: college students, the Hard Rock Cafe, cops, cartoonists, doctors, librarians, men, women. What I do mind is that these jokes were so unfunny and predictable while being offensive. For instance, there is an “outrageous” scene where Kyle, who has had a cancerous testicle removed (always the sign of a clever comedy) asks Michael to retrieve it from hospital storage. As soon as Michael enters the room full of specimen jars, I knew there wasn’t a chance in hell of the testicle jar remaining unbroken, but when the moment comes, it is so predictable I could count down the beats—and he stands, and he sees something that frightens him, and he drops the jar. Mel Brooks, Marty Feldman, and Gene Wilder did it in Young Frankenstein, but director Gregory Poirier is not Brooks on his most dull-witted day.

The sex/gross-out comedy (and what the hell does it say about the current state of U.S. film that this is a genre?) got a boost in 1999 with the arrival of American Pie. Like Porky’s before it, it was a film that wasn’t that good but massively successful, damning us to a cycle of knockoffs that by-and-large make the original look like Citizen Kane in comparison. Understand something, please. I am not above enjoying a good raunchy comedy. You punks today don’t know what you’re missing. In my day, in the Classic Eighties Teen Movie era, we had Fast Times At Ridgemont High and Revenge Of The Nerds, comedies that managed to be good while also being (at least partially) about sex. Okay, we also had Porky’s. We had Screwballs, My Tutor, Private School, The Last American Virgin, and Hardbodies. And we had Fraternity Vacation. These movies may not have had much going for them, but at the least—at the very least—they delivered on what they promised their viewers. And what was that? Why, young women with their clothes off, of course. R-ratings aside, the target demographic for these films was, is, and always will be 16-year-old boys and those who still have their brains. Ya don’t go to ‘em for moving performances. Ya don’t go to ‘em for thoughtful scripts. Ya go to ‘em for titty and oh yeah, eh, maybe to laugh. But mainly the titty thing.

Tomcats doesn’t even have that kind of infinitesimal merit. I’ll say it right out straight: the only nudity in this film is a brief shot of O’Connell’s ass (or a doubles). As for comedy, I think I laughed three times. I don’t remember at what. The rest of the time, I approached the experience less as a movie and more as a sociological observation. I don’t know why Poirier wanted to write and direct this film; I don’t know what point he was trying to make or view he was trying to express. I don’t know why any of the actors, the men or perhaps especially the women, would want to associate themselves with material this ridiculous.

I especially don’t know why some of the people around me seemed to be having a good time. But then, they also laughed in clear anticipation at the trailer for a forthcoming Rob Schneider film in which he approaches a goat, scoping for sex. Tomcats offers only a chance to watch a bunch of young performers who apparently have no shame, and a couple of old pros (Bernie Casey, David Ogden Stiers) pick up a paycheck. To watch Stiers in this film is to reflect that tv’s *M*A*S*H* was a long time ago—and that he must now be the only person in history to have both conducted symphony orchestras and appeared in a movie where his character must eat a severed testicle.

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