No one goes into a film starring Rodney Dangerfield expecting high art, but after his previous forays into movie stardom - "Caddyshack," "Easy Money" and especially "Back to School" - one could reasonably expect at least a few chuckles here and there.
But "Ladybugs" is surprisingly cheerless, a flat film with one bungled comic moment after another. The script, by first-time screenwriter Curtis Burch, is sort of "Tootsie Plays Soccer." And while it isn't much to begin with, director Sidney J. Furie, whose forte is action pictures ("Iron Eagle," "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace"), has no idea how to make any of this funny.
The plot has Dangerfield as a top-notch salesman who is trying to get up the nerve to ask his boss for a raise so he can afford to marry his girlfriend, who has a young son (Jonathan Brandis) with a particularly sour disposition.
The boss is a money-grubbing snob who dotes on his prissy wife but treats his daughter like dirt (a particularly cruel subplot). He lures Dangerfield into becoming the coach of the company-sponsored soccer team with promises of promotion.
Naturally, Dangerfield knows nothing about soccer, so he and his secretary (Jackee) bone up on the subject and do their best, but the girls on the team are inexperienced and lacking in self-confidence - especially the boss' daughter.
To solve his problems, Dangerfield talks his stepson-to-be into dressing in drag and taking a position on the team, leading them to victory. Of course, in the end, the girls will gain confidence and win the championship without Brandis' help.
This is all pretty simple-minded, but it might have been funny with a little more work. As it is, "Ladybugs" chugs along in a slow, dopey manner and is merely juvenile and silly. And sometimes tries for embarrassing sentiment.
But occasionally it manages to be truly offensive, as with a couple of scenes involving double-entendres that imply child molestation, certainly a questionable subject for humor in this day and age.
In addition to all this, everyone in the film wildly overacts, and the production values are suprisingly weak.
Dangerfield's final screen line is, "Hey, I finally got some respect."
Not from this corner.
"Ladybugs" is rated PG-13, though there is an awful lot of vulgar humor; my kids won't be seeing this one. There is also some profanity and comic violence.