By Owen Gleiberman
Updated October 22, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

Molly Shannon, like Gilda Radner or Adam Sandler, is one of those Saturday Night Live players who seems to dredge up her most memorable characters from some joyfully arrested place deep within her psyche. A creation like Mary Katherine Gallagher, the morose, armpit-smelling Irish Catholic parochial-school geek whose repressed sexuality comes bursting forth in frenzied slapstick spasms, may on some level be a satire, but what’s great about the character is the way it allows Shannon to express something far giddier than satire.

Mary Katherine is a self-loathing loser who longs, almost unconsciously, to be a panty-flashing, tongue-waggling slut. She’s a hilarious study in the discombobulating nature of shame. On SNL, each Mary Katherine sketch is like a musical number, a four-minute portrait of depression, rage, and triumphant, set-crashing release.

To call Superstar a TV sketch padded out to feature length would be giving the movie too much credit; it barely boasts enough funny material to fill four minutes. By turning Mary into a halfway presentable heroine, the film dissipates her energy — the depraved lust and weirdly stilted, ballet-class stride that Shannon flaunts so brilliantly. The only time we get Mary in an unfiltered dose is when she tongue-kisses a tree and gets … well, aroused. Still, having sat through my share of wretched SNL spin-off movies (It’s Pat, etc.), I think I’ve figured out why they’re all so bad. They keep taking these profoundly grotesque characters and making them friendly and domesticated, instead of wilder and more warped. D