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"Roseanne' the movie is scarier than real life

It's a sad commentary on the entertainment industry when an actor like Patrika Darbo has to rely on a colleague's public tantrums for a paycheck.

Sad but true. If it weren't for Roseanne's highly publicized lifestyle, Darbo _ who plays the buxom baroness of prime time in yet another celebrity biography Monday _ still would be looking for work.

"There's no way I could have turned this down," Darbo said assertively in a recent telephone interview. "For an actress that's over 30 and overweight, there's not a lot out there written."

So little, in fact, that both Darbo and her co-star, Stephen Lee (who mastered the hyperactive mannerisms of Tom Arnold) also vied for the shameless roles in the Fox Roseanne bio earlier this month.

Lucky for them, they chose the NBC version. Not that it's any more tasteful, but at least NBC has been able to laugh at itself _ and the ridiculous notion of offering up such an exploit _ through a cheeky Halloween promotions campaign. (The real Roseanne, though, declined the network's offer to provide live commentary on the movie. Wonder why?)

There's always something unsettling about watching a movie about a celebrity's life while the celebrity still is living it. Like a child who gets caught playing dress-up in a closet that's been designated off-limits, somehow we viewers feel we're going to be scolded for traipsing through a celebrity's private belongings.

Television doesn't get any more painful than in NBC's Roseanne and Tom: Behind the Scenes. If you thought the self-destructing couple were embarrassing in real life, wait until you wallow in their fictionalized muck. (Especially the absurd and poorly written dialogue between Roseanne and one of her many personalities which pops up throughout the two-hour movie. Even the real Rosie lambasted this technique.)

Compared to the diminutive Denny Dillon _ whom Roseanne called "freaky" and a "midget woman" when she was cast in the Fox movie _ Darbo is a dead-ringer. Only her Rosie is cherubic, giddy and vulnerable. About as close she gets to the crassness Roseanne has made a calling card is when Darbo does a standup routine smacking her gum.

(In Darbo's defense, that was her intention. "I tried not to imitate her, because I didn't want it to be a Saturday Night Live sketch," said the actor, who played the hamburger carhop in the recent film Corinna, Corinna.)

Her on-screen husband is far more predicable. Lee's Tom Arnold has all of the obnoxious mannerisms of his alter ego. He's a wannabe sidekick along for Roseanne's ride, an overzealous dreamer in dire need of star power of his own _ which earns Lee an "A" for effort if nothing else.

But together, the on-screen Arnolds are like a couple of cartoon characters who've come to life. Silly and sophomoric, it's hard to believe this is a woman who built an empire and the man who chipped away at it.

"We're America's worst nightmare," Tom Arnold howls as the newly married couple smash wedding cake in each other's faces, "white trash with money."

No, our worst nightmare would be more movies like this. The scary thing is, there still are two networks who've yet to take the Roseanne plunge.


Roseanne and Tom: Behind the Scenes

WFLA-Ch. 8, 9 p.m. Monday. Grade: D