By turns pointless and pointlessly mean-spirited, pic makes one yearn for the artistic vision and moral fiber of "Porky's." Far tamer than National Lampoon's 2002 gross-out hit "Van Wilder," misconceived comedy places two veteran actresses in a cringingly unfunny premise that, even at 87 minutes, feels unnecessarily padded.

By turns pointless and pointlessly mean-spirited, “National Lampoon’s Gold Diggers” makes one yearn for the artistic vision and moral fiber of “Porky’s.” Far tamer than National Lampoon’s 2002 gross-out hit “Van Wilder,” this misconceived comedy places two veteran actresses in a cringingly unfunny premise that, even at 87 minutes, feels unnecessarily padded. All but the most diehard fans of this increasingly tired franchise should stay far away.

Originally titled “Lady Killers” (like the recent Coen Brothers pic starring Tom Hanks), “Gold Diggers” follows two twentysomething losers who, after being jailed for failed robbery attempts, hatch a sordid get-rich-quick scheme from behind bars. Cal (Will Friedle) and Lenny (Chris Owen) plot to marry and murder the elderly Mundt sisters, Betty (Renee Taylor) and Doris (Louise Lasser), who, thanks to their father’s famous Mundt-brand condom, own a huge Beverly Hills estate and are heiresses to an enormous family fortune.

But Betty and Doris have their own desperate motives for getting married: In truth no longer wealthy, the sisters plan to wed the boys, kill them, and cash in their life insurance policies. And so the stage is set for a series of gruesome set pieces, with the four newlyweds making repeated attempts on each other’s lives. In a sane world, all four would succeed, and pic would be a 10-minute short. No such luck.

There may well be a satisfyingly nasty black comedy to be wrought from this this sort of material, but the execution would require a truly warped visionary like Terry Zwigoff or Todd Solondz. It would also require gags more substantial than the endless breast, fart, water-retention, crotch-biting and dismal ethnic stereotype jokes trotted out here. Still, pic is a lot less raunchy than it sounds; saddled with a PG-13 rating, it isn’t even enjoyably trashy, although blonde bombshell Nikki Ziering does turn up briefly in Cal’s fantasies wearing little more than a string bikini.

Pic spends too much time, however, making fun of how old, withered, hideous, kinky and sexually rapacious the Mundt sisters are, and Taylor and Lasser — both long-established comediennes (Taylor appears in the upcoming Jude Law vehicle “Alfie”) — prove much more game than the material deserves.

Taylor elicits the most sympathy. She is forced to strut about in a tight-fitting nurse’s uniform during a scene of wedding-night foreplay while absorbing constant jokes about her weight. Lasser, despite pic’s attempts to uglify her, has a weird elegance that somehow survives the flat-out creepiness of her character.

Teen auds may also recognize younger thesps Friedle (“Boy Meets World”), Owen (best known as “the Shermanator” from the “American Pie” trilogy) and Ziering (“American Wedding”).

National Lampoon's Gold Diggers

Production

A P & A Releasing Corp. release of a Voyage Entertainment and Delfino Entertainment presentation of a Don Ashley production. Produced by Ashley, Amy Greenspun, Gary Preisler. Executive producers, Leland Preisler, Charles V. Kinstler, Brian Greenspun. Co-producers, Dean Blagg, Kami Norton, Howard Houng. Directed, written by Gary Preisler.

Crew

Camera (Deluxe color), Tom Callaway; editor, Robert Brakey; music supervisor, Jerry Gershman; production designer, Terrence Foster; set decorator, Melanie Jones; costume designer, Ellen Falguiere; sound (Dolby). Steuart Pearce; associate producers, J.B. Moresco, Michael Rutter; casting, Aaron Griffith. Reviewed at AMC Avco Cinema, Los Angeles, Sept. 13, 2004. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 87 MIN.

With

Cal - Will Friedle Lenny - Chris Owen Charlene - Nikki Ziering Doris - Louise Lasser Betty - Renee Taylor
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