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TV Reviews : Deadly Sins Take a Lampooning

Thanks to “Seven,” the deadly sins are once again, in Hollywood parlance, hot. “National Lampoon’s Favorite Deadly Sins” tries to capitalize on their re-emergence as viable entertainment--to varying degrees of success.

Basically, this production for Showtime is just three short films thrown together in a conveniently loose thematic form; this could just as easily been called “National Lampoon’s Salute to Stupid Horny Guys” or “National Lampoon’s White-Trash-a-Rama.”

Denis Leary stars in and directs the “Lust” segment, involving a working stiff with a crummy life titillated by a sexy neighbor and his subsequent efforts to seduce her. Like most incidents in which someone allows their genitals to supersede their brain, the payoff is disappointing.

Next comes “Greed,” the longest, most ambitious and most frustrating of the three shorts. Joe Mantegna gives a broad performance as Frank Musso (any resemblance to the name of a certain restaurant is almost certainly intentional), a standard-issue sleazoid TV docudrama producer. When he encounters an unhappy lollapalooza (Cassidy Rae) yearning for fame in a backwater diner, he inevitably sighs breathlessly, “We might consummate . . . a deal,” and any semi-sober frat guy can figure out the next scene.

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From there, it picks up--they plot a crime, hoping to turn it into a TV movie; the resulting media circus obviously is supposed to recall a certain recent high-profile judicial proceeding. Had it been handled more deftly, this segment could have stood on its own (“National Lampoon’s Trial of the Century”?). Alas, outside of a few cagey details, the humor here is puerile and obvious.

For “Anger,” Andrew Clay is hilariously obnoxious as a boor who manages to irritate everyone he stumbles upon in the course of a momentous evening. He happens upon a convenience store robbery, which sends him to heaven, where he grouses about the length of the entry line. Not even the fires of hell faze him, so he’s subjected to the only fate that can put a dent into his asbestos exterior.

So, a nominal hit, a miss and one that wavers between the two. But one can’t help but wonder how much more engaging this might have been if “Seven’s” psychotically pious John Doe had been allowed to wreak some havoc in these vignettes.

* “National Lampoon’s Favorite Deadly Sins” premieres Sunday at 8 p.m. on Showtime.

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