Wednesday, November 24, 1999

'Flawless' brilliantly acted, but plot just too predictable




BY MARGARET A. McGURK
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Joel Schumacher has scored enormous success directing flashy, glib Hollywood movies, including A Time to Kill and the last two installments of Batman.

        Flawless represents his effort to make a scaled-down, personal film with some star power to give it commercial muscle. He recruited Robert De Niro and Philip Seymour Hoffman, both brilliant technical actors known for submersing themselves totally in their characters.

        Both do exactly that, playing the oddest of odd couples — Walt (Mr. De Niro), a gay-baiting retired securi ty guard, and Rusty (Mr. Hoffman), a would-be transsexual drag queen.

        The two live in the same grubby building; that is why Walt turns to Rusty for vocal lessons prescribed as therapy after a severe stroke.

        Naturally, they connect, in a friendship punctuated by high-volume bouts of cursing and slurs.

        Mr. Schumacher is not content to confine himself to Rusty and Walt; he throws in a parallel plot about a vicious drug lord searching for stolen money. That gives Mr. Schumacher plenty of excuses for showdowns and shoot-em-ups, including a climactic battle in which Walt and Rusty take turns rescuing one another.

        (Interestingly, this is the second time in recent weeks — Double Jeopardy was first — when we see a crippled hero defend himself despite his condition.)

        Meanwhile, Rusty prepares friends to compete in the “Miss Flawless” contest, andWalt has trouble with women, chiefly his favorite dance-hall hostess Karen (Wanda De Jesus) who cares only for his money, and Tia (Daphne Rubin-Vega), the young dancer who pleads for his attention.

        Mr. De Niro is reliably believable playing a character with disabilities. Mr. Hoffman, who is never less than fascinating, is flamboyantly emotional and conflicted.

        Aside from their performances, however, the movie bogs down badly. For one thing, it is terribly predictable. The proliferation of subplots doesn't help. With so much going on, at so many different emotional pitches, Mr. Schumacher can't weave the strands together in anything resembling a coherent piece.

'Toy Story 2:' Woody and gang faster, funnier
'End of Days' gutsy, gore-packed action flick
- 'Flawless' brilliantly acted, but plot just too predictable
'Princess Mononoke' subtle tale for grown-ups
'The Straight Story:' A simple movie about people



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