CONNIE AND CARLA

PG-13
Reviews

After witnessing a mob rubout, Connie (Nia Vardalos) and Carla (Toni Collette) flee to Los Angeles, where they realize two major ambitions: successful singing careers and a safe hiding place from the gangsters on their tail. How? In a further twist on the transvestite twist Billy Wilder threw into Some Like It Hot, they impersonate a pair of drag queens who perform at a gay bar.

The actresses throw themselves gamely into the dizzy conceit of Connie and Carla and manage to create some initial merriment. Collette, in particular, is a real trouper, and her first appearance in drag is laugh-out-loud funny, with its overabundance of silver eyeliner. (She's like the ugliest guy as the ugliest Liza Minnelli imaginable.) Ironically, the thick makeup and wigs contrive to beautify Vardalos, who's more attractive in these scenes than she's ever been. However, as My Big Fat Greek Wedding proved, Vardalos is a much better actress than she is a writer, and the patchy script has a desperate, thrown-together feeling to it, as if she had to scramble to come up with something after Wedding's gargantuan success.

Much of the movie is taken up with numbers in which the girls costume themselves outrageously and warble anthems from various favorite Broadway shows and movies: Jesus Christ Superstar, Cabaret, Oklahoma!, even Yentl. It's cute enough in the beginning, but cute has a tendency to pall. The denouement with the gangsters is particularly lame, with the girls' old boyfriends, who've tracked them to L.A., seeing them interviewed on television and then miraculously showing up on the scene a mere seconds later to save them from the thugs.

As for the film's gay elements, well, in 1969, the year of the Stonewall riots, a movie was made called The Gay Deceivers, in which two guys impersonated gays to avoid the draft. It was littered with lisping, tittering, swishy homosexuals, and what's amazing is how little has changed for Hollywood in the last 35 years. The gays in Connie and Carla are universally depicted in an identical fashion, as they've been in To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar, The Birdcage, In & Out, Boat Trip, and God knows how many other gay-for-pay pics. The queer populace here seems particularly dimwitted, as the minute the girls open their mouths to not lip-synch, but actually sing their numbers, their gender is inescapably evident.

Debbie Reynolds, looking slightly mummified, guest stars as inspirational diva to the girls. David Duchovny manfully bears the weight of the film's misguided serious moments, as a homophobe who learns tolerance. (We really didn't need another version of Victor/Victoria in his confused courtship of Connie and, unlike Vardalos, at least Blake Edwards never asked us to weep over their plight.) As his misunderstood brother, Stephen Spinella contributes his usual unappetizing intensity as Peaches, the chief drag queen. (The scene where he dresses up like one of the Boys in the Band, c. 1969, to see his brother is just ridiculous, harking back to the most primitive days of gay dramaturgy, as well as Stella Dallas.) Talented Alec Mapa is forced to do Willie Fung/Ito duty--my term for Asian performers who, like those professionally shuffling African-Americans of days past, have to stereotypically make like Stepin Fetchit--as a Filipino transvestite, forever linguistically mixing up her "f's" and "p's."

--David Noh