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MOVIE REVIEW : Heavy-Handed Sexism Mars ‘Worth Winning’

TIMES STAFF WRITER

What makes “Worth Winning” (citywide) so depressing is that so much effort and talent has been expended on such a bad idea. It’s hard to imagine how the film makers thought they could make palatable, let alone amusing, the spectacle of a seasoned playboy accepting a bet that he can get three women to accept his proposal of marriage within three months.

This cruel notion would work in a dark Bunuelian satire--a sort of “Indiscreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie"--but “Worth Winning” means to be a sleek send-'em-home-happy romantic comedy, even though it is the stuff of “Dangerous Liaisons.”

You can understand why Philadelphia psychiatrist Ned Braudy (Mark Blum) proposes the bet to his pal Taylor Worth (Mark Harmon), a handsome TV weatherman and local celebrity. Although not fully admitting it, Ned is jealous of the happy-go-lucky Taylor’s endless string of casual conquests and decides that his friend needs to experience some emotional pain. (Ned really is the physician in need of healing himself.) Taylor is actually dubious about the plan, recognizing its potential for hurt, if not to himself, then to the women Ned has selected for him to conquer. Taylor, however, succumbs to male vanity and to the possibility of winning a genuine Picasso, which Ned has put up as the prize. (Never mind that the painting is an heirloom belonging to Ned’s wife.)

As directed by TV veteran Will Mackenzie (in his feature debut), “Worth Winning” proceeds with clockwork precision. Taylor turns on the charm to a Philadelphia Eagles receptionist (beautiful and talented newcomer Maria Holvoe), to a rich, sex-starved matron (Lesley Ann Warren) and to a sharp-tongued but vulnerable concert pianist (Madeleine Stowe). No question about it, Harmon and his three leading ladies are terrific. In adapting Dan Lewandowski’s novel, writers Josann McGibbon and Sara Parriott have made sure that none of the women are defenseless airheads but bright, attractive women with plenty of humor and resourcefulness. Each is worth Taylor’s efforts, and Harmon has the easy style and confidence to be a thoroughly convincing seducer.

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But “Worth Winning” doesn’t acknowledge that it’s really saying that it’s OK for rich, famous and sexy men to get away with just about anything with women with no more than a slap on the wrist. Filmed entirely in settings of luxury and privilege, including exteriors in Philadelphia’s handsome, restored Society Hill district, “Worth Winning” (rated a decidedly lenient PG-13) tells us more about contemporary values than it may have intended; when all is said and done, it endorses rather than criticizes the male attitudes and behavior it depicts.

‘WORTH WINNING’

A 20th Century Fox presentation of an A&M; Films production. Executive producer Tom Joyner. Producers Gil Friesen, Dale Pollock. Director Will Mackenzie. Screenplay Josann McGibbon, Sara Parriott; based on the novel by Dan Lewandowski. Camera Adam Greenberg. Music Patrick Williams. Production designer Lilly Kilvert. Costumes Robert Blackman. Associate producers Neil Koenigsberg, Wendy Dozoretz. Film editor Sidney Wolinsky. With Mark Harmon, Madeleine Stowe, Lesley Ann Warren, Maria Holvoe, Mark Blum, Andrea Martin, Tony Longo, Alan Blumenfeld, Devin Ratray.

Running time: 1 hour, 59 minutes.

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MPAA-rated: PG-13 (parents strongly cautioned; some material may be inappropriate for children under 13).


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