By Owen Gleiberman
December 04, 1998 at 05:00 AM EST
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For all the bitch-slap violence, salacious overkill, and brazen fakery, the ingenious secret of “The Jerry Springer Show” is the way it taps the naughtiest corners of our imagination, forcing us to create, in our heads, the exuberantly squalid scenarios described by the guests. The canny, shameless “Ringmaster” presents the logical fulfillment of the audience’s fantasies: It goes “behind the scenes” to dramatize a trailer-park love triangle whose members end up pimping themselves on national TV.

Angel, a mean, pigtailed young nympho (played by Jaime Pressly, who’s like a minx in heat), sleeps with her grizzled stepfather (Michael Dudikoff) and gets into catfights with her fame-whore mom (Molly Hagan), who drags them all onto the Jerry Farrelly show (a thinly veiled version of the real thing). At the studio, the three join in hormonal communion with another crew of Jerry’s guests — hot stud Demond (the excellent Michael Jai White) and his bevy of battling girlfriends.

Lust, fame, very big breasts — all are on full, lip-smacking display in “Ringmaster,” which is smart enough to put Jerry Springer’s charlatan tactics up front and to tweak the class prejudices of his critics (a valid tweak), even as it basks in the purest exploitation. It’s all presided over by the ironic king of the new shock culture — schlumpfy old Jerry himself, who, in the film’s wryest joke, comes off as quiet, abashed, almost mournful, as if the sleazing of America were his brave and lonely crusade. You can almost hear him saying, It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it.

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