USA Network's Hefner: Unauthorized is almost a Playboy
infomercial, containing little that should upset founder Hugh Hefner.
But the movie does annoyingly rely on a questionable device
-- the use of a deceased low-level staffer, Bobbie Arnstein, as the omniscient narrator.
Arnstein, played by Natasha Gregson Wagner, was hired at 19 in 1960 and committed suicide
Hefner is portrayed capably here by Randall Batinkoff, who
bears a resemblance to the Playboy founder. But executive producer Ben Myron,
director Peter Werner and screenwriter J.B. White have put a soap-opera spin on this
chronicle of Hefner's life and times.
They should have inserted courtroom and boardroom scenes to
strengthen the drama, which barely touches on Hefner's legal battle against obscenity
charges and rushes through the business aspects, including his decision to match archrival
Penthouse's full-frontal-nudity tactic.
On the plus side, this movie is remarkably restrained for
The story jumps quickly from Hefner's "emotionally
deficient" childhood to his wedding to Millie at 22 to his departure from a kids'
magazine to start a men's magazine (originally to be called Stag Party), focusing
on "the good life for city guys." Hefner gathers $7,000 from investors --
including $1,000 from his supposedly "puritanical" mother.
Playboy's a hit, but Millie soon divorces Hefner, who
was already turning his magazine fantasy into reality by having affairs with staffers.
Gradually, Hef -- as even his daughter Christie calls him
-- picks up symbols the associated with his legend. The pipe was suggested by a producer
on his 1960s TV series Playboy After Dark to avoid clumsy hand gestures, while the Playboy
Bunnies -- club waitresses "dressed like rabbits" -- were purportedly the idea
of a date.
Throughout, Hef never stops living his life the Playboy
way -- even after a 1968 scolding by Bobbie. She tells him, "Your lifestyle hurts
people," like new live-in lover, Barbi Benton, 18.
In the '70s, an unappreciated Bobbie hooks up with a
coke-sniffing hippie. After detectives put the squeeze on her for evidence needed to bring
down her boss, she kills herself.
Fast forward to 1998, when Kimberly, Hefner's second wife
walks out because "we're never alone." Narrator Bobbie asks, "Is he the
luckiest man alive or the loneliest?"
Let's hope this biopic doesn't spawn a sequel exploring
septuagenarian Hef's relationship with his three current live-in babes, Brande, Mandy and
USA's Hefner: Unauthorized will bow on Dec. 12 at 8
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