The Woman Chaser

-

The Woman Chaser

With his glacial pug face and cellar-deep vocal register, Patrick Warburton (best known as Puddy on Seinfeld) serves as an ideal noir hero for Robinson Devor's wickedly clever homage/parody The Woman Chaser, which exploits his deadpan smirk to both comic and menacing effect. Photographed in sharp, high-contrast black and white, the film lovingly mimics the cheap, stripped-down look of post-war American B-pictures, but finds refreshing new ways to deconstruct the genre while staying true to its lowdown spirit. Warburton plays a Los Angeles used-car dealer whose visionary ideas are generally inseparable from his sadistic streak, as evidenced by a scheme to dress his lot salesmen in Santa suits during a summer heat wave. Realizing he has a natural disposition for film directing, Warburton sells his has-been stepfather (Paul Malevich) and a minor-studio financier on The Man Who Got Away, a cold-blooded tale about a truck driver who runs over an innocent little girl and her dog, then speeds headlong into a police blockade. But after shooting the film and trimming it down to 63 minutes of diamond-cut malevolence (the cinematic equivalent of a James M. Cain story), he's told that it's too long for television and two reels too short for the screen. Adapted from a novel by Charles Willeford, who also provided the source material for 1990's superb neo-noir Miami Blues, The Woman Chaser treats its central character with equal parts bemusement and admiration as he stares down the utterly foreign prospect of compromise. This contradictory attitude typifies the film's determination to have it both ways—a hardboiled crime thriller on one hand, a meta-movie spoof of crime thrillers on the other—yet Devor and the poker-faced Warburton are happy to erase the distinction. Entertaining and unpredictable, knowing without being insufferably self-conscious, The Woman Chaser seems cued to the misfiring synapses in its hero's psyche, which leads to some dark corners that include an Oedipal complex to make James Cagney blush. At its heart, though, the film champions Warburton's independent spirit in a city full of capitalist sellouts, even if that means turning a kindly old Salvation Army volunteer into a whore just to prove a point.