The simple and yet daunting philosophy of National Lampoon in its early-'70s heyday was that anything was allowed, no matter how tasteless or offensive, as long as it was funny. Julie Brown tries her hardest. But ultimately her skewering of Tonya Harding and Lorena Bobbitt, for Showtime's two-part anthology in celebration of Lampoon's 25th anniversary, disappoints because it just doesn't have enough laughs.
The simple and yet daunting philosophy of National Lampoon in its early-’70s heyday was that anything was allowed, no matter how tasteless or offensive, as long as it was funny. Julie Brown tries her hardest. But ultimately her skewering of Tonya Harding and Lorena Bobbitt, for Showtime’s two-part anthology in celebration of Lampoon’s 25th anniversary, disappoints because it just doesn’t have enough laughs.Come to think of it, the tabloid-fodder quality of both women’s stories may be behind the paucity of humor. Anyone who watches latenight TV, has heard a comedian in the past 10 months or has otherwise been clued in to pop culture knows that nearly every joke has long since been wrung out of the material. Brown’s take on the subjects isn’t fresh enough to provide big laughs, but she does mine humor in the details. “Tonya: The Battle of Wounded Knee” finds Brown as Tonya Hardly (ho ho), a trash-talking, chain-smoking, money-hungry strumpet … in short, not far off from the real Ms. Harding. Always in her skates — except when she uses them to slice pizza — she pauses at one point to sing of her wish to be queen of the ice, putting her in the pantheon with her heroines: Imelda Marcos, Ivana Trump, Leona Helmsley and La Toya Jackson. It seems old hat. Far more humorous is Khrystyne Haje’s Nancy Cardigan — get it? — a spoiled, self-absorbed princess who whines “Why me?” at nearly everything. If the Tonya episode, which Brown directed, is sophomorically humorous at moments, the second half of the 90-minute film, satirizing Lorena Bobbitt, is a clunker. Brown plays a brown-haired, Venezuelan variation on her standard dumb-blonde/white-trash character, portraying Babbitt as a crazy, sexually frigid hysteric. Instead of skewering the public’s fascination with Bobbitt’s knifework on her deadbeat husband’s privates, “He Never Gave Me Orgasm” attempts to find humor in poor, pathetic Lorena. Director Richard Wenk sets the segment at a frenetic pace, perhaps designed to obscure the realization that the only humor in this piece is versions of the severed penis jokes that circulated through offices and locker rooms within days of the news. In both the Harding and Bobbitt segments, which Brown co-wrote with longtime partner Charlie Coffey, tech credits suggest budgets as minimal as the laughs. Brown’s brilliant Madonna satire, “Medusa: Dare to Be Truthful,” and her campy novelty hit songs like “Homecoming Queen’s Got a Gun” point to her obvious skill. But “Attack of the 5’2″ Women” comes off no better than a latter-day National Lampoon, where the philosophy has descended to the point where anything is allowed, and it would be good if at least some of it were funny.