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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.

`Soapdish'

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.''

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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.''

`Tootsie'

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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