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'Private Parts': Celluloid Kills the Radio Star

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 7, 1997

For many years now, Howard Stern has been laying down obnoxious, crude but often amusing plans to take over the world. Well, maybe just the world of the media.

Heís in good shape thus far: The tell-it-like-it-is DJís morning radio program is the countryís top-rated show. His E! Entertainment cable TV show can be seen in more than 40 million homes. And now, we have "Private Parts," an adaptation of his best-selling autobiography of the same name.

Heís household all right.

Unfortunately, the movie is likely to earn more money than praise. If it showcases him in all his glory, it also shows what little glory there is to celebrate. Stern is often entertaining, but also sort of banal. A lanky, longhaired improviser who eats social taboos for breakfast, Stern is the most irrepressible being on the airwaves -- and thatís saying something. But heís also a rebel without a pause, a motormouth whose greatest asset is his ability to push emotional buttons, tweak conventional standards and make fun of his wife on the air.

Stern fans will appreciate the in-the-club camaraderie between Stern and his supporting characters-for-life. The Sternites, who play themselves, include news anchor and sidekick Robin Quivers, engineer Fred Norris, Jackie Martling (Sternís head writer) and producer Gary ("Baba Booey") DellíAbate; thereís even an appearance by Stuttering John. But as with Robin Williamsís gleeful admirers in "Good Morning, Vietnam," theyíre just sound-booth cheerleaders.

Stern doesnít disappoint the crudity crowd, with a three-ring circus of weirdos, sycophants and buxom women willing to bare their wares for the camera. But their gratuitous presence doesnít even make a good gratuitous joke.

Local fans who remember Sternís days with DC-101 will appreciate some of the highlights shown here: Sternís Dial-a-Date sessions with lesbians; a bit where he tells a female listener to sit on her speakers while he tries to give her an orgasm through that woofer. And from his New York days with WNBC, let us never forget the "Kielbasa Queen" (Althea Cassidy), a Stern guest who, well, letís just say sheíd make Jimmy Dean sizzle.

Beyond Sternís presence, the movie (directed by Betty "Hill Street Blues" Thomas) is uneven and ultimately disappointing. Its rags-to-riches story is a flimsy, even tiresome structure. The central romance, in which his wife, Alison (played by Mary McCormack), sticks with him through shtick and thin, is pretty cheesy -- even if it did happen.

The portrayal of Stern as a meek geek who undergoes the radio equivalent of Popeyeís spinach transformation and becomes a supergeek (misunderstood by his detractors) seems like a transparent maneuver to get us to love him. This is a dramatic tactic he would mercilessly taunt if anyone else had used it.

The best material occurs in the middle sections, when Stern battles for the right to be Himself, against the objections of unimaginative, cowardly network brass in Washington and New York. To goose his WNBC employers, for instance, Stern plays a game-show competition, in which he gets Quivers and his staffers to guess the blanks. One of the words, for instance, is "blank-a-doodle-doo." While the participants enjoy themselves spelling out the naughty prefixes and suffixes to these words, Sternís immediate supervisor (Paul Giamatti), goes berserk. Unfortunately, the rest of the movie -- like the title -- is just a collection of parts. Some of it is pretty funny, but thereís so much more you may just want to tune out.

PRIVATE PARTS (R) ó Contains overt nudity, lewd language and behavior, profanity and frisbee violence.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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