Release Date: March 27th, 1992 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Sidney J. Furie Actors: Rodney Dangerfield, Jackee, Jonathan Brandis, Ilene Graff, Vinessa Shaw, Tom Parks, Jeannetta Arnette, Jandi Swanson
r. Von Kemp’s seven-hour motivational speech doesn’t quite have an impact on Chester Lee (Rodney Dangerfield), as his attitude is constantly bright, cheery, and happily sarcastic – but he still feels extra prepared for a promotion after 12 years as a salesman at Mullen Industries. But David R. Mullen (Tom Parks) isn’t interested in another employee thinking they’re due for a raise – what he needs is a winning soccer coach for his daughter’s team, so that his shapely wife will be content. And so, during the meeting, Chester gets so distracted sucking up to the boss that before he knows it he’s volunteered to coach the team, the Ladybugs.
Chester’s knowledge about soccer is nonexistent, but how hard could it be? The team has an entire wall of trophies in Mullen’s office and he’s got his coworker Julie Benson (Jackee) as an assistant. But the first practice proves him dead wrong; every champion from the previous years has moved on, leaving the bewildered Chester with a group of beginners, possessing comparatively little familiarity with the game. It’s bad enough that he has to worry about his fiancé Bess (Ilene Graff) planning their wedding, and her son Matthew (Jonathan Brandis) earning poor grades in school and having a general disgust for Chester, but now he fears losing his job. Fortunately, however, Matthew is a whiz when it comes to sports, which means he just might be willing to aid in Chester’s dilemma.
Early on, “Ladybugs” features a bizarre, fantasy/dream sequence in which the boss’ scantily-clad daughter Kimberly (Vinessa Shaw) reveals a bit too much for her youthful age to the equally young Matthew (intended to be 14) – setting the stage for unanticipated humor. Though many of the funniest bits involve Dangerfield summing up events that take place off-screen, there are also several cross-dressing issues and sexual insinuations – intended to be clever double-entendres – that come across as wildly out of place for such a seemingly innocent premise. They are, in fact, the most inappropriately hilarious moments, due significantly to their unexpected nature. Summoning a laugh over child abuse certainly isn’t something as generally accepted in the comedies of the 2000s.
The situations in the film are merely setups for Dangerfield to wisecrack and bug his eyes out – so when a few gags fall flat, the pacing drastically suffers. Additionally, the progression of scenes and editing are rather amateurish, while the acting is recognizably mediocre. So much of “Ladybugs” is dated, from the music to the montages, but the crudeness of the jokes associated with Dangerfield and Brandis in drag (as well as moments with cursing children), are ideas few other light-hearted comedies dare to explore. Lying and corrupting a child present fairly serious conflicts, despite the similarities to “Mrs. Doubtfire” (released a year later) and “Tootsie” – though this venture is decidedly goofier.
The coach eventually realizes that there are more important things in life than getting the big office, having more money, or even winning the championship, but it’s a morally bumpy ride. The final motivation for the Ladybugs to give it their all is based on taunting and provoked revenge. “What good is being the best if it brings out the worst in you?” asks Lee – but, apparently, he doesn’t follow his own advice. At least Rodney Dangerfield looks funny even before he says anything, with his inimitable way of peeling back his eyelids and continually moving about as if struck by an incurable, incessant nervous twitch.
– Mike Massie