By Merle Bertrand | July 9, 2000

Richard Hudson (Patrick Warburton) is bored. Though the heartlessly manipulative raconteur is raking in handfuls of dough from his used car lot, thanks in no small part to a sadistic sales tactic whereby he’s ordered his sweltering salesmen to don Santa Clause suits in the middle of a boiling L.A. August, Hudson spontaneously decides to make a movie. Enlisting the help of his mother’s husband, a former studio director who’s been forcibly set out to pasture, he convinces Mammoth Studios to cough up some cash. Before you can say “bungalow on the lot,” Hudson is in production on “The Man That Got Away”; his angry, uselessly timed 63-minute opus that’s too short for the theaters and too long for TV. Defiant and petulant as a three year old whose mom told him “no candy before dinner,” Hudson lashes out and finally slips off the deep end where he belongs. At some point, Warburton is going to have to give up his Puddy persona (first introduced as Elaine’s monotoned jock boyfriend in “Seinfeld”)…but not just yet. We’re still having too much fun watching him torment those animated M&M’s, for one thing. By adding a layer of “bastard sleazebag” to the Puddy schtick here, without totally removing the tongue from his cheek, Warburton’s ambitious, arrogant and crude used car salesman Hudson broadens the original character’s template some in Robinson Devor’s warped but engaging period comedy “The Woman Chaser.” Set in 1950s Los Angeles, this wonderfully photographed (kudos to DP Kramer Morgenthau) black and white gem is by turns ludicrously funny, (the burly Warburton prancing around in a side-splitting impromptu ballet), and vaguely disturbing, (Hudson coldly de-flowering his perky, teasing step-sister.) In these ways, “The Woman Chaser,” which is based on Charles Willeford’s novel, closely resembles the now-departed standout TV show which made this film’s star such a cultural icon. Once imbedded in the public psyche, however, typecasting can be difficult if not impossible to overcome. By essentially reprising his TV role in a nastier form here, Warburton runs the risk of being permanently known for this one character. Lucky for him and, in the case of “The Woman Chaser,” lucky for us as well that he plays this humorously loathsome character so well.

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