Video parodies are either sudsy or slick

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By Bryan Ames For the Post-Bulletin

I'm not a fan of soap operas. Given a choice, I opt for game shows. A soap never informed me that the term ``Ivy League'' came from the Roman numeral IV, denoting the first four colleges in the prestigious association. I learned that on ``Hollywood Squares,'' a program that regularly kept me up-todate on Charo, Prof. Irwin Corey and Princess Zsa Zsa. Irregardless of personal predilections, I have watched enough daytime dramas to know real people don't have hairdos like that, and comedies that spoof them must overcome the basic premise that soaps are already selfparodies.


The concept -- a comic-book look behind the scenes of a TV soap, combining the Oscar-winning talents of Sally Field, Kevin Kline and Whoopi Goldberg -- should have translated into surefire entertainment. The script is by playwright Robert Harling (``Steel Magnolias'') and Andrew Bergman, whose credits include ``The In-Laws'' and ``The Freshman.'' The executive producer is Field's ``Steel Magnolias'' director, Herbert Ross. Co-produced by Field's husband, ``Soapdish'' is frantic, irritating and astoundingly unfunny.

Cathy Moriarty (``Raging Bull''), Robert Downey Jr. (``Chances Are'') and Elisabeth Shue (``Cocktail''), along with poor Carrie Fisher in a thankless role as an amorous casting director and ``Pretty Woman'' director Garry Marshall as a flustered TV exec, round out a cast who must've thought this was a Lawrence Kasden ensemble in the tradition of ``The Big Chill'' and ``I Love You to Death.''


Here, under Michael Hoffman's indifferent direction, the otherwise gifted players compensate for a lack of chemistry by bouncing off the walls and straining their vocal chords. After Field's umpteenth sobbing jag you'll be reaching for whichever is closest -- the fastforward button or a bottle of aspirin. `Delirious'

For the cost of a video rental, you're money ahead with this inoffensive lark, starring John Candy as a soap writer who finds himself in the fictional town of his TV show, where he can re-type his characters' destinies as well as his own. His fantasies owe more to Indiana Jones and 007 than to daytime TV, but all in all, this is a likable parody, and the affable Candy is gamely supported by Mariel Hemingway (TV's ``Civil Wars''), Emma Samms (``Dynasty''), Raymond Burr, David Rasche (``Sledge Hammer'') and Charles Rocket, whose claim to small-screen infamy came in 1981 when he was fired from ``Saturday Night Live'' after uttering an on-air obscenity.

Although the script by Lawrence J. Cohen and Fred Freeman twinkles with occasions of inspired wit, including the comic highlight of a cameo by Robert Wagner, the movie suffers from restraint. Chances for big laughs are reined in, and what's left is a gentle comedy, directed by Tom Mankiewicz, a script doctor who made his feature debut with 1987's ``Dragnet,'' starring Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks. Mankiewicz also directed episodes of TV's ``Hart to Hart'' (hence Wagner's guest appearance), as well as serving as a creative consultant on the first two ``Superman'' pictures, which might explain Margot (Lois Lane) Kidder's walk-on in ``Delirious.''


A discussion of soap spoofery would be remiss without mention of this 1982 hit, and now would be an ideal time to get re-acquainted with Dustin Hoffman as the annoying, perpetually unemployed actor who finds success and sensitivity when he masquerades as a woman for a role on a daytime serial. The crisp, insightful script, attributed to Larry Gelbart (TV's ``M*A*S*H'') and playwright Murray Schisgal (``Luv''), is reported to have been revised by, among others, ``Bugsy'' director Barry Levinson and ``Ishtar'' director Elaine May.

Besides the rediscovered delight in Hoffman's typically brilliant performance, there's the joy of being reintroduced to Jessica Lange as Hoffman's troubled co-star; Teri Garr as his ill-used friend; unbilled Bill Murray as his droll roommate; Dabney Coleman as the sexist director; Charles Durning as Lange's moonstruck dad; George Gaynes (``Police Academy's befuddled Commandant Lassard) as an aging daytime idol, and Geena Davis (``Thelma and Louise'') in her first film as Hoffman's half-dressed dressing-room partner. Last but notably not least is the director of ``Tootsie'' himself, Sydney Pollack, as Hoffman's harried agent.

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