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The Baltimore Sun



Wednesday November 25, 1998

     Watching "The Jerry Springer Show" can be like eating potato chips: It's not very good for you but it's hard to stop once you've started. His show invites a seductive condescension with its endless parade of the overweight, overpainted, undereducated, all in a state of jealous rage or bigotry.
     What's more it's easy to justify watching low-class types make fools of themselves by telling ourselves that it's probably good therapy for people too poor or ignorant to seek out counseling to vent all this rage on TV. In any event, Springer is a guilty pleasure, like reading a tabloid while standing in a supermarket check-out line.
     A movie inspired by his TV show's phenomenal success was surely an inevitability, but that it would be as shrewd and funny as "Ringmaster" could scarcely have been guaranteed. Director Neil Abramson and writer Jon Bernstein start by imagining two sets of people eager to appear on the program and colliding when they do.
     On the one hand, there's Connie Zorzak (Molly Hagan), who's fit to be tied that her sluttish teenage daughter Angel (Jaime Pressly) is fooling around with her stepfather Rusty (Michael Dudikoff), a good-looking but lazy layabout. Fireworks ensue but Connie thinks they'd be perfect candidates for Jerry's show. As an added inducement to Jerry's people she decides it might be a good idea if she can assure them she has seduced her daughter's dim fiance (Ashley Holbrook).
     Meanwhile, some fine-looking ladies, Starletta (Wendy Raquel Robinson), Vonda (Tangie Ambrose) and Leshawnette (Nicki Micheaux), think that they belong on the show too, along with Demond (Michael Jai White), a handsome, muscular playboy who's been unfaithful to all of them. There are more fireworks when Angel and Demond take notice of each other backstage at the show.
     Performances are uniformly sharp and lively, with Hagan and Robinson suggesting some dimension and genuine anguish in the women they portray.
     "Ringmaster" creates some deft insights: that for a person like Connie, a Dade City, Fla., doughnut shop employee who lives in a trailer park, the promise of a free trip, though brief, to Hollywood, with the chance to stay in a nice hotel and to appear on TV--regardless of the outrageous circumstances--is the whole point. It's the promise of a thrill that outweighs her anger at her daughter's and husband's behavior.
     Springer, whose movie surname is listed in the production notes as Farrelly, is of course playing himself and appears intermittently throughout. He wisely takes a self-deprecating stance, muses about how he'd hoped to have a career like Walter Cronkite, and finds himself constantly mobbed as much as Madonna. He presents himself as a detached, cool observer of the human comedy, but when one of the people in the audience during one of his shows gets up and says such individuals shouldn't be allowed on TV, Springer lashes back indignantly, asserting that the poor and obscure have just as much a right to air their ills on the tube as the rich and famous, who are always detailing their latest detox or lurid incidents in their lives. The man has a point.

Ringmaster, 1998. R, for strong sexual content and language. An Artisan Entertainment presentation in association with the Kushner-Locke Co. of a Motion Picture Corp. of America production. Director Neil Abramson. Producers Jerry Springer, Gina Rugolo-Judd,, Brad Jenkel, Steve Stabler, Gary W. Goldstein. Executive producers Brent Baum, Don Corsini, Richard Dominick, Erwin More, Brian Medavoy, Donald Kushner, Peter Locke. Screenplay Jon Bernstein. Cinematographer Russell Lyster. Editor Suzanne Hines. Music Kennard Ramsey. Costumes Gail McMullen. Production designers Dorian Vernacchio, Deborah Raymond. Set decorator Jodi Ginnever. Rona De Angelo. Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes. Jerry Springer as Jerry Farrelly. Jaime Pressly as Angel. William McNamara as Troy. Molly Hagan as Connie Zorzak.

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