"Woo" is the name of a Manhattan femme fatale with a knack for wreaking havoc wherever she places her hot-pink platform heels. She's a diva, a doyenne of the demimonde, a street-wise B.A.P. of the first order.
Unfortunately, as played by Jada Pinkett Smith, she also has a mean streak as wide as the East River. And that makes all the difference. The exploitation humor that "Woo" tries for always teeters dangerously on the edge of being out-and-out objectionable.
For these types of comedies to succeed, they need a sympathetic leading character to make up for fatuous stories, inane dialogue and puerile humor.
Woo is so unpleasant that it's impossible to see why her suitors pursue her so ardently. And it's impossible to discern why audiences should be the least bit interested.
"Woo" opens with an ankle-level shot of the title character as she sashays through midtown streets, male pedestrians virtually fainting in her wake.
She arrives at the studio of Celestial, a transvestite psychic portrayed with verve by Girlina (no last name given). Celestial informs Woo that she will meet the man of her dreams that very night.
Later, Woo is fixed up with the bespectacled, slightly nerdy Timmy (Tommy Davidson). He isn't rich, he isn't suave, he simply couldn't be the one. And as their night progresses -- or disintegrates as the case may be -- it looks like Woo may be right.
Davidson, who began his career as a stand-up comedian, is appealing but unremarkable as the hapless Timmy -- a fantasy sequence in which he conjures various versions of Woo is funny, as is a routine in which he catches his toilet paper on fire (it's that kind of night, and it's that kind of movie).
Darryl, Timmy's laid-back Lothario of a next-door neighbor, is portrayed with hilarious silkiness by LL Cool J.
Director Daisy V.S. Mayer, who also directed "Party Girl" with Parker Posey, clearly knows her way around New York's underground night life, where the dress code runs to patent leather and neon-colored lipstick. "Woo" may be weak in story and characters, but it is long on color and antics, like a chandelier swinging through a flaming restaurant and a freaky sex game involving a woman impersonating (imchickenating?) a chicken.
In case it isn't obvious, the humor of "Woo" is broad and almost constantly revolves around predatory women and doggish men; a sequence at an after-hours club introduces that old chestnut, homophobia.
It would all be easier to take if the title character were presented with an ounce of charm. Woo is much too selfish, insensitive and narcissistic for audiences to want to buy her, and Smith is still much too self-conscious an actress to sell her.
L Starring Jada Pinkett Smith, Tommy Davidson, Dave Chappelle
Directed by Daisy V.S. Mayer
Released by New Line Cinema
Rated R (sexual content and language)
Sun Score: * 1/2
Pub Date: 5/08/98