Worth Winning

The concept of Worth Winning is like something out of an incorrigibly caddish 1960s movie, in which grown men expound on the Playboy philosophy and toy with women like chess pieces. Boeing Boeing and Guide to the Married Man come to mind.

The idea here is that a successful ladies’ man (Mark Harmon) is proposed a wager by three buddies. They say Harmon can’t persuade three women to accept his proposals of marriage; he says he can, and he can even produce videotaped proof. The women, however, will be chosen by the buddies, who intend to make the bet as difficult as possible to fulfill.

The women are: a blond bombshell (Maria Holvoe), who’s constantly surrounded by beefy pro football players; a married woman (Lesley Ann Warren) with a large appetite for sex; and a concert pianist (Madeleine Stowe) who already hates Harmon and everything he stands for. No problem for our hero, who quickly works his magic.

Of course, these are not the 60s, and in enlightened times such as ours, Harmon must have his consciousness raised. And, despite its apparently sexist premise, Worth Winning (which was written by two female writers) gives the boot to romantic gamesmanship, and casts a vote in favor of the “C” word – commitment.

The movie has some amusing sequences, especially the scenes involving Madeleine Stowe, who brings a lightness to her role (she played the lady in distress in Stakeout). Director Will Mackenzie, a veteran of television, does a respectable job of guiding things, although the decision to have Harmon speak directly to the camera at various moments (after sleeping with a conquest, he tells us, “I’ve had better times pulling out splinters”) was probably ill-advised.

The big problem with Worth Winning is Mark Harmon. To put it mildly, Cary Grant he ain’t. Harmon, a likable enough screen presence, consistently tries to act funny, which is one of the worst things you can do in this sort of comedy. Playing it straight would have yielded much better results. As it is, he’s a hole in the center of the movie, hardly worth anything.

First published in The Herald, November 3, 1989

Will Mackenzie acted on TV and then became a director, steadily working in sitcomland for decades. As far as I can tell this is his only big-screen feature as director. The screenwriting team of Josann McGibbon and Sara Pariott is still going; they also did Runaway Bride. This came during the big Mark Harmon moment, and I suppose it helped wind that down. It was the final screen credit for Maria Holvoe, who was also in Willow.

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