"The Hungry Bachelors Club" is a low-cal affair in which none of the ingredients are properly measured and the final dish is nothing to give thanks for. Self-styled romantic comedy offers few if any laughs, with only a happy (albeit ridiculous) ending making pic a "comedy" in literary sense of the word. Ultra-soft approach to a quasi-Altmanesque tale featuring numerous characters in a Southern city severely throttles any B.O. potential for the project.

“The Hungry Bachelors Club” is a low-cal affair in which none of the ingredients are properly measured and the final dish is nothing to give thanks for. Self-styled romantic comedy offers few if any laughs, with only a happy (albeit ridiculous) ending making pic a “comedy” in literary sense of the word. Ultra-soft approach to a quasi-Altmanesque tale featuring numerous characters in a Southern city severely throttles any B.O. potential for the project, which understandably lured no distribs.

Although based on a novel, script by Fred Dresch and Ron Ratliff could still use a compass. Story focus constantly changes amid a crowded roster of characters, and lumpy, bland passages of conversation give way near the end to an absurdly compacted series of unlikely plot twists. Set-up, however, suggests a classic comedy situation, as divorcee Delmar (Jorja Fox) and roommate Hortense (Suzanne Mara) stage one of their regular dinner parties for friends and family. Hortense is impatiently waiting for b.f. and rising lawyer Stanley (Paul Provenza) to pop the question, but, instead, Stanley pops one to Delmar: Would she be surrogate mom for his boss and his barren wife?

She agrees, thinking that fee for her labors will help her open her dream restaurant, the Hungry Bachelors Club. Meanwhile, we’re awkwardly introduced to quiet, sweet ex-con Moses (Bill Nunn), who’s sleeping in a derelict Cadillac being sought out by Delmar’s bro Jethro (Peter Murnik) and pal Marlon (David Shackelford).

Typical of story’s arch notions is character of Jethro, who explains to new buddy Moses that he teaches Mesoamerican anthropology at the local college and restores old Cads with Marlon in his spare time. This character detail comes in oh-so-handy when, back at the party, a guest dies, upon which Jethro and the guys perform a Mayan funerary ritual, with the dead woman’s daughter, Missy (Katherine Kendall) arriving in tears.

Before pic’s 93 minutes are up, wads of distracting, tragic backstory are unleashed about Missy, Moses and Jethro, with characters instantly bonding in ways that defy life and good dramatics. Even Delmar and Moses’ eventual link-up comes too easily, and the restaurant opening and Delmar’s pregnancy go without the least bit of struggle.

With their pic dramatically walking in its sleep, filmmakers attempt an 11th-hour resuscitation by injecting a nonsensical flurry of plot conflicts in final minutes, including the birth of Delmar’s baby, which all are shocked to see is mixed race, meaning that Moses is the father — which is logically and chronologically impossible.

Stronger thesps may have punched up flat material, but the actors here are undone by the flabby script. It should be Fox’s movie, and though she’s robbed of much screen time, ex-”ER” thesp doesn’t generate much rooting interest in an indifferent perf. The usually strong Nunn wastes his time in a part that goes nowhere. Only Kendall generates some true moments of passing emotion.

Pic would have benefited from greater specificity, starting with identifying the particular Southern city where it’s set. Several mediocre Spencer Proffer tunes are sung onscreen, all off-key and shoddily dubbed. Tech credits are just above TV caliber.

The Hungry Bachelors Club

Production

A Mama's Boys Prods. release of a Taggart Transcontinental and Managed Passion Films presentation of a Mama's Boys production. Produced by Dan Gifford, Amy Sommer Gifford. Executive producer, Kimberly Becker. Co-producer, Robert Lynn New. Directed by Gregory Ruzzin. Screenplay, Fred Dresch, Ron Ratliff, based on the novel by Lynn Scott Myers.

With

Hannibal Youngblood - Candice Azzara Harold Spinner - Michael Des Barres Delmar Youngblood - Jorja Fox Missy Bainbridge - Katherine Kendall Hortense - Suzanne Mara Jethro Youngblood - Peter Murnik Moses Grady - Bill Nunn Stanley Diggers - Paul Provenza Marlon - David Shackelford Mr. Ringold - W. Morgan Sheppard
Camera (FotoKem color), Robert Smith; supervising editors, Stephen Myers, Andrew Frank; music, Larry Brown; music supervisor, Spencer Proffer; production designer, Timothy Duffy; costumes, Katie Saunders; sound (Dolby), David Schaaf; supervising sound editor, Tim Kimmel; line producer, Jim Glander; assistant director, Jonathan Southard; casting, Peggy Larson. Reviewed at the Avco Cinema, L.A., Nov. 13, 1999. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 93 MIN.

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