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HARMON COMEDY IS GREAT - UNTIL IT TRIES TO GET REAL

SHARE HARMON COMEDY IS GREAT - UNTIL IT TRIES TO GET REAL

WORTH WINNING ** Mark Harmon, Madeleine Stowe, Lesley Ann Warren, Maria Holvoe; rated PG-13 (sex, profanity, nudity); Cineplex Odeon Family Center Trolley, Holladay Center and Trolley Square Theaters, Mann 6 Plaza Theaters, Redwood Drive-in (with "Weekend at Bernie's").

"Worth Winning" is an amiable slapstick male chauvinist farce for its first half, but when the film tries to leave its goofball tone for a more realistic, bittersweet feel, it stumbles and never quite recovers.This attempt at screwball comedy starts out like one of those old '60s sex comedies - "Lover Come Back" or "Boys Night Out" - but then at the last minute it tries to become "9 to 5," and the mix doesn't wear well.

Mark Harmon, all charm and teeth, is very good as womanizing Philadelphia TV weatherman Taylor Worth. This guy is so self-absorbed he watches tapes of himself at home and then practices with a weather map that hangs over his television.

Harmon is great in the role, demonstrating a smart sense of comedy and offering terrific promise as a Cary Grant-style leading man of the future.

The plot centers around Worth accepting a bet from his childhood chum Ned (Mark Blum), a psychiatrist who is obsessed with Taylor's love life, that Worth can woo three women - women that Ned picks out - and get each to accept a marriage proposal.

First up is Erin (Maria Holvoe), receptionist for the Philadelphia Eagles, an innocent, beautiful woman often surrounded by 7-foot hunks.

Next is unhappy homemaker Eleanor (Lesley Ann Warren), a sex-starved long-married matron with a boring husband and son.

And finally, Veronica (Madeleine Stowe), the toughest of the trio - a tart-tongued, stubborn "new age" pianist who hates the term "new age," and the best friend of Ned's wife (Andrea Martin).

The first half of the film is filled to the brim with inventive sight gags, great dialogue and the "Groucho" device, or perhaps the "Ferris Bueller" device these days, which entails Harmon addressing the camera directly from time to time, commenting on the proceedings.

The intention here is clearly to create a fast-paced Howard Hawks-type comedy that has us laughing so much we forget the mean-spirited notion of the plot and the potential tragedy it evokes. But when the film begins to address those aspects realistically, the comedy bogs down and the second half feels far too dry.

Of the women here Madeleine Stowe, who was also wonderful in "Stakeout," clearly makes the most of her role, giving it dimension and heart. Lesley Ann Warren and Maria Holvoe are also good, but their roles are more superficial and stereotypical.

TV director Will Mackenzie does well most of the way with the door-slamming slapstick here, and first-time screenwriters Josann McGibbon and Sara Parriott may may also come up with something better in the future.

"Worth Winning" is rated PG-13 for sex, profanity and some partial nudity, but it is really in R-rated territory.