"You know anything about soccer?"
"Not much. All I know is, I got a lotta balls!"
Oh Rodney, Rodney, Rodney. For such a comedic talent, there isn't all that much to show in his filmography. Sure, there's 'Caddyshack' and 'Back to School,' which may be his early peak, but what's left after that? 'Easy Money?' A cameo of sorts in 'Natural Born Killers?' Honestly, the man who made a career talking about the lack of respect he got, sure didn't make it easy to respect his career in film. With so many bombs, 'Ladybugs' just may be one of Dangerfield's more memorable roles. Memorable because for a few years, it played nearly every day on cable.
Chester Lee (Dangerfield) can't get no respect! He's been with the same company for twelve years, and can't seem to get his boss (Tom Parks) to give him that promotion he's after. For some unknown reason, he won't propose to his girlfriend (Ilene Graff) until he gets said promotion. Perhaps he thinks she's shallow. He must not have seen a mirror lately, if he thinks that!
In an attempt to get in good with the boss, a little white lie gets stretched to the point that Chester becomes the coach of the girls soccer team his company sponsors, the Ladybugs, which has his boss' daughter Kimberly (Vinessa Shaw) on the team. He thinks it will be an easy gig, considering the team's championship history, but he's soon to find out this is a "rebuilding year," full of girls who know as little about soccer as he does. After a humiliating loss, and a reprimand from his boss, Chester does the only thing he can to win: get his girlfriend's son, Matthew (the late Jonathan Brandis), to play for the girls team. Matthew/Martha is an athletic kid, and is easily the best in the league, but can he get the girls to play together, and make them better in the process? Can Martha hide her secret and help Chester earn that promotion, or will he get his father-figure and his sidekick Julie (Jackée) fired?
There's a reason Dangerfield got no respect, no respect! It's uninspired career choices like this. The sports comedy is a fairly easy genre, with a built in audience in youths and fans of said sport. The cast doesn't need anyone beyond a star and a comedian or two on the side. The story can stink, but still be fondly remembered if caught at the right time in one's life. It's just dangerous to revisit titles like this from one's past, after so many years.
'Ladybugs' isn't a bad film, despite what the star rating may say. It's just a lazy, paint-by-numbers, go-through-the-motions exercise in trying to occupy an audience's mind for an hour or two. The acting is horrendous, with Parks and Jackée (who later added the last name Harry to her moniker) bringing the "goods" with their respective performances. Sure, Jackée is meant to be the comedic sidekick, but time has not been kind to her role. Her gags are all painful, painful, painful.
The jokes aren't gut-bustingly funny, but they can get a few giggles here and there, and there are a few risque moments (including child molester jokes in a changing room) that look very different in the changed world. Nearly every line from Dangerfield is a gag, or a necessary expository comment to keep the ball rolling in the right direction. The romantic side-plot, involving Kimberly and Matthew, is somewhat disturbing, particularly the most awkward dream sequence in film history (as a child, watching a kid fantasize about another kid may be cute. As an adult, cree-py...). Yes, Shaw grew up to play a hooker in 'Eyes Wide Shut,' but here it's just odd. While they're the same age, she looks years more developed, so it's doubly odd. The only reason the characters are worth mentioning beyond the synopsis is the way Matthew/Martha has to juggle his feelings for Kimberly, while also trying to be a friend...a friend who is deceiving her the entire time!
Yes, the film is cliche. The final match, of course, the championship, is beyond ridiculous, with an amazing team jutting out to a huge lead at half time, only for a motivational speech being all the Ladybugs need to succeed. Sure, there are a few drag jokes too many, and a Rodney Dangerfield in drag scene that burns one's soul. It's also fun to watch, for the sole reason that no one in their right mind would look at Martha's body, and hear "her" voice, and think she's a girl. If you enjoyed this as a kid, you may want to reconsider the obligatory purchase and leave it in the realm in which it is best seen: memory. Hell, just watch 'Kicking & Screaming' every time the urge to view this film pops up.
The video for 'Ladybugs' is presented with an uneven AVC MPEG-4 encode (1.85:1, 1080p) that can go from great to abysmal and back again faster than you can put on a crappy wig.
The entire film has an even amount of dirt throughout, and it's fairly tiny and non-distracting. Grain, on the other hand, goes from zero to sixty in one second flat , and can be an annoyance solely for that reason. Contrast seems flat, matching the picture itself, and colors can seem awfully drab, with boring textures to boot. Then, out of nowhere, a brilliant shot will pop up, with the tiniest of grass blades leaping, colors getting vibrant and rich, and textures shooting off of uniforms and clothing. Then, again, back to mucking around. There is no consistency to this issue, as it isn't like soccer games are great, and indoor scenes are murky. It's just whenever, whatever. Edges are clean, but there is a tiny bit of noise, and the occasional blur, and a hint of color bleed here and there. I'm not saying this release is ugly. I will just quote Dangerfield himself, in saying "It's two faced....and it should have worn the other one!"
Lionsgate brings 'Ladybugs' to Blu-ray with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that, honestly, is about as convincing as Matthew was as "Martha." It's much like the video, but without the random patches of greatness mixed in.
Rear use starts from the get go, with a light city ambience, or little localized effects in the self-help seminar, then it fades to oblivion. Sure, the music finds its way back there, but for the most part, only the most random and forced bits of crowd atmosphere ever find their way to the back. The music also has an unnatural volume at times, not quite overpowering the rest of the film, but coming awful close. Dialogue is clear, even in the mumbliest of Dangerfield trademark mumbles, but any yell or higher end voice sounds utterly shrill. Range? It gets no respect, as there is really little to speak of.
One can't expect much from a family sports comedy that's nearing its twentieth anniversary, so this wasn't that much of a surprise. Hard to field an all star team when there isn't a single star in the league.
The only extra for 'Ladybugs' is a generic trailer for catalog Blu-ray titles from Lionsgate. The same trailer that plays before the menu. Hooray. Also worth noting: this release has one of the most annoying menus on the format, with a tab noise for every move, and a shrill whistle with every selection. You can turn it off, but you have to hear multiple, multiple noises to do so.
"What is this? A drag race?" A marginal film, to be sure. Fun, but just bad. Imagine 'Ladybugs' with anyone but Dangerfield. Anyone. It would be so, so much worse. With average video and audio, but no extras, this is your stereotypical bargain release. It's a guilty pleasure, to be sure, and is a must for Dangerfield fans. For everyone else, this one is a questionable purchase, even at the low price it's sure to draw at retailers. Considering the only edition of the DVD release is out of print, this will be the only way to purchase 'Ladybugs' domestically for the time being, at a fraction of what the DVD goes for.