Picks and Pans Main: Video
Among the things that Jane Fonda hath wrought is the celebrity fitness-tape genre, featuring a famous, great-looking person in great shape, cavorting in front of a bunch of other great-looking people in great shape. The usefulness of these tapes for the average exerciser varies dramatically, but the trend continues apace.
SHAPE UP WITH MARY HART
When Avon jumped into the exercise-video market, they called Mary Hart, the beaming co-host of Entertainment Tonight, maybe because Mary can make sweating look like fun. "Are you ready for that warm-up?" she says. "It's gonna feel sooooo good!" And pow! She's out of the gate and prancing through a 45-minute regimen of low-impact, high-exertion aerobic routines: "The harder you work, the more energy you'll have."
Tyros be warned: this is no remedial program. Vigorous dance warm-ups are followed by floor exercises tailored to tighten slack muscles and then by cool-down stretches. She, meanwhile, is as refreshing as a breath mint as she shouts: "This program is designed to be fun and easy, and I'm going to be with you every step of the way." Whoa there, Mare. Easy, you say? Anyway, despite the brisk-to-frenetic pace, there is nary a huff or puff from Hart's backup group of four aerobics instructors in color-coordinated outfits. (They often look more like a Las Vegas revue than an exercise class.) The bleached-wood set is clean, the camera work is slick, the music is as upbeat as Hart's chipper sincerity. When the session ends, you half expect her to reach out and pat you on the back. (Avon, $19.95; 800-858-8000)
RAQUEL: LOSE 10 LBS. IN 3 WEEKS
"Hi, I'm Raquel," she says, as if we didn't know. Who else can sound perky and sultry at the same time or look so Raquel-ish? Yes, she's annoyingly perfect, but she does promise that this tape and an accompanying diet chart, "all ready to be taped to your refrigerator door," will fulfill the title's promise. (No medical endorsement of the diet is offered.) Trainer David White works out with his star pupil on a living room set that looks like a thesis project from the Love Boat School of Interior Design. They use "cross-training," combining yoga stretches, aerobic exercises and free weights for 40-minute workouts. Raquel and White measure heart rates and offer tips to those who can't run in place for five minutes or endure interminable sit-ups.
"Feel the burn," says White at one point. "What?" snaps Raquel. "David, you are in the wrong exercise video!" George and Gracie they ain't—misery wants company, not clever conversation—but the regimen seems sensible, and clearly works for Raquel, now 48. HBO, $19.99; 800-344-3432)
THE SOAP STARS' WORKOUT
Prefer to shape up with Jacklyn Zeman and Kin Shriner of General Hospital or Charles Shaughnessy and Holly Gagnier (formerly) of One Life to Live? This tape is for you. Don't expect any anguished suspense or seductions. These folks came to work, managing only wan smiles as they follow Nurse Ratched-style orders from instructor Shannon Madill in a grueling 60-minute workout.
Though it was produced by Richard Klinger, once associated with Fonda's videos, the bland tape lacks Jane's snap, crackle or pop. The routine is monotonous, the set is claustrophobic, the costumes need work. Charlie and Kin in baggie Bermudas look like refugees from Nerd City. Viewers who want an exercise program with soap stars, but no fun and few instructions, may be satisfied. Anybody like that out there? (Vestron, $19.98; 800-523-5503)
SILVER FOXES II
Those walking tributes to fame by association—Sly Stallone's and Robin Williams's mothers, Al Pacino's and Dustin Hoffman's fathers—are back with a sequel to last year's megahit. On a cheery set, each of the four takes a turn as instructor. There is no bouncing or jouncing. Viewers are encouraged to follow at their own pace in a non-aerobics program for the over-50 set.
The couples warm up with a free-form dance routine. Jackie Stallone, 63, calls out a one-two cha-cha-cha. Harry Hoffman, 81 and survivor of quintuple bypass surgery, does a scene-stealing limbo. Sal Pacino, 66, once an arthritis victim, shows off a smooth golf swing while dispensing pointers on strengthening arms and legs. And Laurie Williams, 64, leads an on-the-mat routine. "Listen to the beat," she says. "You're going to feel a wonderful flow of energy through your feet, calves, your thighs and into your buns."
The program, approved by the American Longevity Association, is designed to build strength and endurance. There are no demands to push; the mood is blissfully mellow. This funny foursome's well-paced warm-up, three conditioning segments and cool-down add up to a 60-minute boost that will leave viewers aglow. (JCI, $19.95; 818-889-9022)
SLIMATICS: FIRST STEPS TO FITNESS and AEROBIC DANCE WORKOUT
These tapes are the Wheel of Fortune of exercise videos: all glitz, no substance. Susan Anton has the Vanna White role. She looks good, smiles constantly, waves her arms and doesn't say much, which is the problem on these tapes. It helps (and can prevent possible injuries) to have an instructor explain the routines—how far to extend your limbs, how to breathe, what benefit the exercises offer. But Anton is all show. Surrounded by professional-looking dancers (who all outdance her), she jiggles around in a baby-blue shimmer leotard, barely breathing hard. Occasionally she fills the aural void with a stream of sugary comments: "Here we go—yooooouuu got it—all right—yooooouuu got it!" She finally stops yammering altogether right when you need her help on the floor exercises. Unless you have eyes on the side of your head, it's tough to follow routines while you're on your back.
The first tape, an easier workout, is usefully divided into sections from warm-up to cool-down. The second is more advanced; some routines, apparently choreographed by people interested in dancing, not conditioning, have too many twists and cha-chas to follow. Both 60-minute tapes feature nutrition experts offering familiar rhetoric about high-fat diets. True, the upbeat electronic music is nice. But why buy an exercise tape for the music? (GoodTimes, $14.95 each; 800-327-8843)
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