- The Washington Times - Friday, July 26, 2002

Suspicion is always justified when filmmakers pretend to get solicitous about teenage characters whose virginity has become an intolerable burden usually at ripe old ages like the 15 attributed to Oscar Grubman. He's the supposedly precocious protagonist of "Tadpole," a grubby and amateurish digital video trifle that has been outrageously promoted by Miramax as a prurient call to arms.

The essence of the call: Stalk a kid consort if you're a middle-aged woman of adequate means and desperation. To describe this, the company even invented a nonexistent phenomenon called "tadpoling."

In the context of the film, "Tadpole" is a nickname applied to Oscar by the mocking doorman at his parents' apartment ahouse on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. It's a greeting in the spirit of "Welcome home, twerp," and that sounds just about right for Oscar as embodied by Aaron Stanford, a 23-year-old passer.

Oscar claims to be attracted to older women, specifically to his supposed stepmother, named Eve. She is impersonated by Sigourney Weaver, who looks wonderful and much too sane for the material.

Oscar's crush on Eve is deflected when her best friend, Bebe Neuwirth as a chiropractor named Diane, seduces a drunken Oscar on Thanksgiving night. It's a red-letter night for crime in the city: A neighborhood saloon keeps pouring drinks for the boy, and Diane takes him home for a massage and orgasm.

The lamely farcical and winsome upshot: Oscar must scramble to conceal his escapade with shameless Diane while still trying to make himself attractive and indispensable to Eve.

One moronic situation requires the boy to paste on a pair of sideburns, purportedly clipped from the pet dog of his best friend, Charlie (Robert Iler, aka Tony Soprano Jr.). Oscar's seducer evidently confides in all her cronies and takes an opportunity to parade and mock Oscar as a potential group toy when he encounters the gals lunching together.

Diane never seems to meet a reported boyfriend named Phil, a cluck of her own generation who mysteriously turns up at her apartment and exhibits no suspicions when he meets Oscar there the morning after the big tryst. Diane does blab to Oscar's parents during a would-be-hilarious dinner for four. Eve can't formulate a persuasive argument to counter Diane's felonious behavior or sever their friendship.There isn't such an argument in this feebleminded context, where all women are expected to envy and emulate the resident slut. But then Eve is the kind of clueless wife who hasn't even heard that Oscar will be visiting his other mother who resides off-screen in Paris for Christmas while she and Oscar's father, Stanley (John Ritter), do the holidays in Portugal. Have any of these people ever met?

In one isolated respectable scene, Miss Weaver gets to celebrate the wonders of the human heart, arguing that romantic connotations seem trifling in comparison with "the thing itself." Ironically, the movie can't get a grip on reality itself. It can't acknowledge that some relationships need to be valued and protected rather than sacrificed to promiscuous whim and disgrace.

It's pointless, of course, to expect anything defensible or coherent from the shabby mind-set of a "Tadpole," which also drags along a motley form of presentation, consisting of zestless digital photography and a flat-footed pace that seems almost impossible to sustain, at least in a romantic farce that runs only 77 minutes.

For a devastating contrast, consider "Stuart Little 2," which looks dazzling and juggles plenty of comic interplay in 78 minutes but to be fair, Stuart is better looking and has a more interesting love life than poor Oscar Grubman.


TITLE: "Tadpole"

RATING: PG-13 (Prurient pretext and emphasis; episodes involving teenage drinking and sexual dalliance; fleeting profanity)

CREDITS: Directed by Gary Winick. Screenplay by Heather McGowan and Niels Mueller.

RUNNING TIME: 77 minutes

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