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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Light-Parted Fun From a Stern Man

"Private Parts," the 1996 movie biography now playing at the American House of Cinema, is an interesting case. If you know little or nothing about the film's subject -- shock-jock radio star Howard Stern -- you will probably find "Parts" to be quite entertaining in, well, parts.

But if you do know Stern's work -- and as the self-proclaimed "King of All Media," he makes it available not only on radio but also in bookstores, tapes and TV appearances -- you will likely be puzzled by the movie. For "Private Parts" presents the acerbic master of trash-mouth talk shows -- infamous for his on-air savagery, his scattershot misogyny, his race-baiting, gay-bashing, schoolyard-bully bile -- as a good-hearted guy who just wants to put a little smile on the world's face. Hey, is that so bad?

In other words, what we have here is an image nip-and-tuck the likes of which has not been seen since Alexander Lebed went from bone-gnawing Neanderthal to far-seeing statesman in the blink of a teleprompter. This is Stern Lite, served in a convenient plastic cup.

So of the real Howard Stern -- bold mocker of the powerless, courageous castigator of the low and ignorant, fierce champion of the mammary obsessed -- we get but dribs and drabs in the movie, and always burnished with a soft, favorable light. That said, the film's fictional Howard Stern (played, as it happens, by the real Howard Stern) is certainly capable of beguiling an hour or two with mostly harmless hokum garnished with a sprinkling of kitschy sentiment.

The film takes us through the great man's entire life: out of the cradle, endlessly smirking; into a youth spent scrapping in a tough New York neighborhood; early sorrows, early joys in the radio trade; then the customary epiphany ("I gotta be me!") that leads, after much travail, to the transcendent glory that is magazine covers, movie deals and the ultimate confirmation of Olympian status: lawsuits. We see how Howie met up with the kooky sidekicks that are so essential to his oeuvre (all of them played -- and decently played -- by themselves), and watch the tender unfolding of the still-thriving romance between Stern and Alison, the gentle creature who became his long-suffering wife (played, perversely enough, not by the real Alison but by actress Mary McCormack).

A clue to some of the deeper philosophical themes that inform Howard's quest for human truth and right action can be found by perusing the cast list, which includes such characters as "The Kielbasa Queen," "Wendy Whoppers" and "Lesbian Campleader."

Again, this is not, in its giggly way, so very different from Woody Allen, after all; and it must be said that Stern is an excellent performer, with a fine sense of comic timing that can often draw a laugh even against the viewer's better judgment. The best scenes are probably those of Stern on the job, creating aural mayhem in the studio. These, of course, have been shorn of some of his usual effects: You won't hear too many of his broad caricatures of black ghetto-dwellers or stupid Arabs or other manifestations of his flat-earth mentality here.

Aficionados might actually be disappointed at this defanging, but for the rest of us, it makes "Private Parts" an enjoyable enough diversion. Of course, Howard Stern is not the king of anything (except a highly profitable self-merchandising machine); but he is, of all things, a pretty good actor. He should let us see him in a part that's not so private sometime.