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‘Ladybugs’ (PG-13)

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 30, 1992

Now think about it. If you had an all-girl soccer team, would you let Rodney Dangerfield come within the same Zip code? I mean, isn't there some federal regulation against this? Some provision in the Mann Act? If there is, the producers of "Ladybugs" have somehow gotten around it in order to have the fidgety comedian play the coach of a floundering bunch of adorable footballers.

And you thought the Mapplethorpe show was shocking.

But then incongruity is fundamental to comedy, and at least "Ladybugs" has that, if nothing else, going for it. In this case, Dangerfield is the ultimate schmuck out of water. The gig wasn't his idea. The team is sponsored by the company Dangerfield works for, and as a condition for getting a promotion, his boss demands that our hero deliver a winning season. The problem is, Dangerfield doesn't know a soccer ball from a beer mug, and the team isn't exactly up to championship snuff. This paints Dangerfield into a tough corner; if he doesn't get the promotion, he can't get married to his longtime sweetheart, Bess (Ilene Graff), and so he persuades her son Matthew (Jonathan Brandis), who's a soccer whiz, to wear a wig and join the team as one of the girls.

Naturally, with Matthew (who's now Martha) directing the action, the team comes together and, eventually, works its way to the championship game. But once Bess finds out what's been going on, Dangerfield is forced to choose between her and the promotion. It's your basic no-win proposition, except that, of course, by choosing to do the right thing, the coach redeems himself and wins the championship and gets the promotion. As a bonus, Matthew also wins the heart of the girl of his dreams (Vinessa Shaw), and everything works out hunky-dory.

Telling you this much won't spoil anything; it's all obvious from the start. The only real wrinkle here is that Dangerfield isn't really the Dangerfield we've come to know. He's nice, this guy, decent, caring and virtually germ-free. The patter's the same, and director Sidney J. Furie sets his star up for plenty of Rodney-style one-liners, but something's missing. Yes, we do get to see him in a dress and heels, which is enough to set cross-dressing back a millennium. But who wants a reconstructed, childproof Rodney Dangerfield? Come back, Rodney, we hardly knew ye.

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