As if “Body Shots” and “Whipped” hadn’t been sufficiently coarse, suggestive and unfunny to last us a decade, we’re now treated to another general-release dose of excruciatingly mirthless soft-core porn by writer-director Gregory Poirier. “Tomcats” is a lame, frantic, sniggering farce about a guy who resorts to underhanded means in an attempt to win a bachelor pool, which he desperately needs to pay off his gambling debts. Smarmy, crudely made and grossly overacted, the picture should bear a warning to advise potential viewers of its cinematic toxicity.

Michael (smirking Jerry O’Connell) is introduced at the wedding of the first of his “Tomcats” buddies to get hitched, and immediately after the ceremony he and the rest of the still-single guys contribute to a fund, the proceeds of which will go to the last of them to succumb to matrimony. Years later, all have tied the knot save Michael and lascivious ladies’ man Kyle (Jake Busey, who mugs so hard you’d think he might suffer a hernia in the process). So when our “hero” loses a fortune at the Vegas tables and is threatened by a smarmy enforcer, he aims to marry Kyle off and claim the loot. His hairbrained scheme involves hooking his sleazy friend up with Natalie (Shannon Elizabeth), a girl Kyle had once dumped who’s now a cop thirsting for revenge; but to nobody’s surprise things don’t go as planned, and soon Michael and Natalie are gazing dreamily into one another’s eyes.

The basic outline of the plot is quite awful enough, but Poirier has systematically worsened it by making all the characters not only unlikable but thoroughly despicable, and adding as many tasteless elements of dialogue and slapstick as one movie could be expected to contain. It’s just barely conceivable, for example, that somebody could fashion a take on testicular cancer that might be funny rather than appallingly crude, but Poirier hasn’t managed to; and poor David Ogden Stiers, as the surgeon who performs the requisite surgery (which is tossed off almost as outpatient treatment), is unfortunately compelled to suffer the humiliation of the revolting final sight gag (and believe me, “gag” is the operative word here).

Some of the cast seem like amiable enough people and might fare better in less deplorable circumstances, even if this is the second occasion (following “Scream 2”) in which O’Connell has had to strip down to his shorts and be chained up awaiting some punishment–maybe the poor fellow needs a new agent. (Bill Maher and Garry Marshall show up for turns which remain unbilled–a choice which seems remarkably prescient given the outcome.) As for Poirier, one must be less sanguine. As a writer he was responsible for the screenplay for John Singleton’s flawed but interesting “Rosewood” in 1997, and for the entertainingly sleazy “Gossip” last year. In the first three months of 2001, however, he’s given us not only this piece of junk (using it for his directorial debut, too) but the script for the dreadful “See Spot Run.” It might be too late to halt such a precipitous downward spiral.

With all due respect to the SPCA, “Tomcats” should be put down ASAP.