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Howard Stern: Less Than the Sum of His 'Parts'

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 7, 1997

Move over, Mahatma, there's a new martyr in town: St. Howard of Megahertz, and oy, has he suffered. As a kid, his dad called him a moron, then he couldn't get a date in college, and, the greatest indignity of all, he had to work in smaller markets before landing a gig at WNBC Radio in New York.

Judging from the self-serving, often funny biopic "Private Parts," Stern's mind is as limited as his radio repertoire and his emotional growth as stunted as his famously tiny penis. While most folks are stymied by their shortcomings, maybe don't even know they have any, Stern (as himself) has not only recognized his weaknesses, but parlayed them into national notoriety. And of course, piles of money.

Now, Stern finds himself in Rodney Dangerfield's baggy pants. He wants respect, and he also wants us to like him. Thus, much is made of his fidelity to his long-suffering wife, Alison (Mary McCormack), and his loyalty to his real-life radio family (Robin Quivers, Jackie Martling, Gary Dell'Abate and Fred Norris as themselves). And if that weren't enough already, he loves his three kids. Well, so did the Godfather.

"Private Parts," lifted from Stern's best-selling autobiography, is a choppy amalgam of "Revenge of the Nerds," "Father Knows Best" and "Network." Sternheads, in fact, will probably be disappointed in the shock jock's sensitive side, as portrayed here with surprising if suspect tenderness by Stern and his comely co-star.

Director Betty Thomas offsets these with amusing anecdotes from Stern's youth and re-creations of his radio outrages. Though the material reflects his juvenile obsession with lesbians, mammoth mammary glands and his own puny manhood, it doesn't expose the true mean-spiritedness of which Stern is capable. (Joking about his wife's miscarriage sure comes close.)

In searching for his "radio voice," Stern realizes that he's got to free his id, unzip those pillowy lips and let it all hang out. For many a dissatisfied white male listener, Stern's excesses proved the perfect antidote to the political correctness of the '80s. Many, including some who should know better, saw him as a caustic social satirist taking on the sacred cows of the period.

Though some may wonder what a woman swallowing a 13-inch kielbasa has to do with a healthy social dialogue, the film manages to prove its point. The movie is at its most hilarious when the protagonist takes on the radio establishment -- pompous station managers, pantywaisted programmers and the censors at the Federal Communications Commission. And Stern, sweetly gawky as a civilian, is at his best opposite Paul Giamatti as a WNBC producer whose efforts to tame the deejay only egg on Stern and his radio family.

Stern is celebrated here for liberating America's airwaves, and his quest suggests comparisons between the self-proclaimed King of All Media and the First Amendment crusader presented in "The People vs. Larry Flynt." The difference is that Flynt is more self-effacing about his accidental contributions to the social good and more honest about making money off naked women.

Private Parts is rated R for profanity and nudity.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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