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Queer Studies: Six New Texts
Matt Williamson
Friendly Fire

(May 7), Paramount, 86 mins., Comedy, R

D: Brett Ratner

Starring: Greg Kinnear, R. Lee Ermey, Jake Busey, Chris Masterson, Ludacris, 50 Cent, Jeff Daniels, Fred Thompson

Trashed on Stroh's and Rossi Merlot at the annual White House Staff Picnic and Barbecue, the President (Daniels) and his Secretary of State (Thompson) make a $50,000 wager: can queers hack it in the military? The President, a stoned, pampered liberal flake, says yes. The Secretary of State, a decorated veteran and diehard traditionalist, says no. To settle the bet, the Prez's Flamboyant Hairdresser (Kinnear) is drafted into the Army by Executive Order—the stylist convinced he's being punished for giving Daniels an unflattering 'do—and shipped off to boot camp. R. Lee Ermey (broadly spoofing his iconic role in Full Metal Jacket) is the Maniacal Drill Sergeant determined to "crack this queer like a walnut" (the Sergeant punctuating this line by firmly squeezing a nutcracker, the shelled nut popping out and hitting a passing Lieutenant in the eye—the first in a series of gags between the Sergeant and the Lieutenant, the latter Always Stopping By At Exactly The Wrong Time).

The premise thus established, scenes follow of Kinnear: sobbing and pleading as his hair is buzzed off by the Army barber; painting his toenails while the other soldiers dismantle and clean and reassemble their rifles; turning up for the squad's first live ammo drill in a dress and high heels; leering at the other soldiers in the communal showers (to which leering the squad's Dumb Fat Okie Farmboy responds favorably, in another of the film's running gags); giggling childishly at various inadvertent double entendres; etc. In the end, the gay private learns the value of discipline and non-sexual male camaraderie, while his drill squad and the leathery Sergeant learn that Gays Are People Too. The President having won (and magnanimously waived) the bet, the movie closes with all of the soldiers, the President, and finally the Secretary of State party-dancing in drag on the White House lawn to "We Are Family."

Sex/nudity: Kinnear gawks at the bare asses of his fellow recruits in the shower room; Busey and Ludacris pay a visit to a prostitute; a young White House Intern "services" Daniels in the Oval Office.

Drugs/alcohol: The President and Secretary of State get blitzed at a staff barbecue; several soldiers on weekend leave do Jell-OŽ shots in a dive bar.

Violence/gore: None.

Profanity/obscenity: F-gg-t/f-g (14), f-ck (10), sh-t (8), c-cks-cker (7), d-ck (5), a--hole (5), b-tch (4), d-cks-cker (3), c-ck (1)

Appropriate ages: 17 and up.

The verdict: Predictable but winning, with a refreshing message of tolerance.

Coming from Behind

(July 11), New Line, 91 mins., Comedy, R

D: McG

Starring: Damon Wayans, Nick Nolte, Raekwon, Woody Harrelson, Ashton Kutcher, Fat Joe, Ice Cube, Bubba Spark$$, Burt Reynolds

Nolte is Head Coach of the Milwaukee Bearcats, a formerly dominant pro football team reeling from four successive losing seasons. The Bearcats' Sleazy Owner (Reynolds) is secretly planning to move the team to Las Vegas, where a flashy new stadium awaits—but can do so, under the league bylaws, only if the club's already-dismal ticket sales plummet even further. Hoping to kill off interest in the franchise, Reynolds stacks it with a motley crew of no-hopers and has-beens.

During the first game, which Nolte's squad loses by 42 points, the Bearcats' place-kicker suffers a career-ending injury, and the Coach is forced to hold open try-outs to fill the position. His prayers are answered when a Flamboyant Hairdresser (Wayans, in a rambunctious, scenery-chewing performance) turns up at the stadium on tryout day mistakenly believing that a Michael Bolton concert is to be held there. Upon discovering that the Bolton show was actually held the night before, the hairdresser flies into a rage, during which he angrily kicks a football, which soars all the way out of the stadium. The coach signs him up, and pro football now has its first openly gay player—as well as its first high-heeled kicker!

With the team now going for three on every single drive—Wayans miraculously able to complete field goals from the 50-yard-line without fail—the victories start adding up, the gay kicker becomes a surprise celebrity, and the owner's plans for relocation are shot to hell. The other players, however, remain wary of the idea of a "pillow-biter" in the locker room. The Aging Quarterback (Harrelson) is particularly hostile to the notion, and makes a number of jibes at the hairdresser-cum-kicker's expense—e.g., in the showers, "Better not drop the soap, guys" (this line delivered moments before the quarterback slips on a bar of soap and ends up sandwiched against an also-nude 350-pound linebacker, setting up a running gag in which the beefy jocks slip and trip and stumble into a variety of amusing Compromising Positions, usually in the presence of the Sleazy Owner, who's coming to believe the whole team's Gone Gay).

The premise thus established, scenes follow of Wayans: painting his toenails while the other players hit the sled and run wind sprints; tearfully fleeing the sexual advances of the Bearcat cheerleaders; bench-pressing his pink-dyed poodle bitches, Streisand and Minelli, to the accompaniment of "YMCA"; leering at the other players in the locker room (to which leering the team's Dumb Fat Okie Farmboy responds favorably, in another of the film's running gags); giggling childishly at various inadvertent double entendres; etc. In the end, the gay kicker learns the value of discipline and non-sexual male camaraderie, while his teammates, including the newly enlightened quarterback, learn that Gays Are People Too. The movie ends with all of the players, the coach, and finally the owner celebrating the team's unlikely Super Bowl win by party-dancing in drag at midfield to "We Are Family."

Sex/nudity: Wayans gawks at the bare asses of his teammates in the shower room; Fat Joe and Spark$$ pay a visit to a prostitute; a Bearcat cheerleader "services" Reynolds in his luxury skybox.

Drugs/alcohol: Nolte drinks himself to sleep in his hotel room; football players are shown drinking beer in a crowded bar; Wayans and Ice Cube smoke marijuana at a house party; players and fans celebrate a playoff victory by drinking champagne.

Violence/gore: Plenty of bone-crunching gridiron action.

Profanity/obscenity: F-gg-t/f-g (23), f-ck (18), sh-t (18), b-tch (11), d-ck (10), c-cks-cker (7), a--hole (7), n-gger/nigga (4), d-cks-cker (2), c-nt (1)

Appropriate ages: 17 and up.

The verdict: Trashy but entertaining, with a welcome message of tolerance.


(August 20), Artisan, 101 mins., Comedy, R

D: Michael Bay

Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tommy Lee Jones, Dennis Farina, Nelly Furtado, Nelly, Xhibit, Nas, Betty White

Jones is a Maverick L.A. Police Commissioner under whose watch the city's violent crime has been halved—though in the process many unconventional (if not unconstitutional) procedures have become commonplace, to the chagrin of certain of the community's noisy, pampered eiberal elites. Frustrated by the wave of bad publicity attending a Botched Raid on a Latin Drug Den—which wave is threatening to cost him his re-election—the Mayor (Farina) insists that the Police Commissioner hire an Image Consultant to clean up the department's tarnished reputation. Infuriated by the Mayor's meddling, the Commissioner sabotages the Image Enhancement project (and by extension, he hopes, the Mayor's re-election bid) by hiring, as the force's new Consultant, a Flaming Hollywood Hairdresser (Hoffman, riotously camp).

But the Commissioner's gambit backfires, as L.A.'s "fabulous" new cops—and their flamboyant "designer"—quickly become the toast of the town. Within weeks of Hoffman's appointment, the county jail has been transformed into a theme disco, the force's navy blue patrol uniforms have been swapped for skintight vinyl fetish gear, and the Mayor's approval ratings are through the roof! (In the most outrageous development, Hoffman replaces the beat cops' nightsticks with day-glo 10-inch dildos—hence the cheeky title.)

In the end, the Hairdresser/Consultant gains a grudging respect for the values and traditions of American Law Enforcement, while the Commissioner softens his opposition to the observance of arrestees' civil liberties, discovering in the bargain that Gays Are People Too. The movie ends with all of the cops, the Mayor, and finally the Commissioner party-dancing in drag on the steps of City Hall to "We Are Family."

Sex/nudity: Three Filipino Prostitutes are glimpsed nude during a raid on a whorehouse; topless dancers perform for the Mayor and his aides at a seedy strip club; a lap dancer "services" Farina in the back room of the strip club.

Drugs/alcohol: A Filipino Prostitute injects heroin; two Black Gangstas smoke crack and pass around a bottle of whiskey; a homeless man drinks from a bottle of malt liquor; yuppie revelers imbibe at PrizN, the county's controversial new theme disco.

Violence/gore: Several Latin Drug Dealers are shot dead in a Botched Raid; a Black Gangsta holds a knife to a woman's throat during an aborted rape; two Black Gangstas beat, rob and carjack an elderly woman; a Filipino Pimp beats a Filipino Prostitute unconscious; two policewomen then beat the Filipino Pimp unconscious.

Profanity/obscenity: F-ck (23), sh-t (22), b-tch (15), n-gger/nigga (11), a--hole (9), f-gg-t/f-g (9), c-cks-cker (7), d-ck (6), c-nt (3).

Appropriate ages: 17 and up.

The verdict: Raunchy fun, with an unexpected message of tolerance. Farina is a standout.

The Different Heart

(September 9), Castle Rock, 135 mins., Comedy/Drama, PG-13

D: Joel Schumacher

Starring: Josh Hartnett, Robin Williams, Shia LeBoeuf, Kirsten Dunst, Nathan Lane, Nate Dogg, French Stewart

Hartnett, the handsome and popular captain of the varsity football team, is arrested after he and a teammate are caught vandalizing the home of their school's Flamboyantly Gay Drama Teacher (Stewart). Hartnett's bad luck turns to worse when his misdemeanor case is brought before a Flamboyantly Gay District Judge (Lane, hilarious in lavender robe and handlebar mustache). Determined to teach Hartnett a lesson, Lane orders the young jock to perform 200 hours of community service—delivering meals to homebound AIDS patients. Instead of relaxing on the beach with his friends and Gorgeous Cheerleader Girlfriend (Dunst), Hartnett will spend his summer attending to the needs of a host of decrepit homosexual men.

Among these withering, lisping charity cases is a lonely, retired Hollywood Hairdresser (Williams, in a performance likely to garner him a fourth Academy AwardŽ nomination), with whom Hartnett strikes up a reluctant friendship. While Hartnett prepares his vegan meals and cleans his studiedly tacky apartment, Williams imparts his obsessive love of musical theater, Marilyn Monroe and transvestitism. Before long, Hartnett is painting his toenails—and goading his bewildered girlfriend into attending a touring Tommy Tune revival!

By summer's end, Williams has died—and Hartnett has gained an unforgettable lesson in tolerance. In the film's bittersweet finale, Hartnett attends Williams's memorial service—an affectionately campy affair that concludes with the mourners (Hartnett included) party-dancing in drag on the cemetery lawn to "We Are Family."

Sex/nudity: None.

Drugs/alcohol: Hartnett and teammates pound beers at a party; Hartnett and Williams drink wine and sing along to Bette Midler and Judy Garland records.

Violence/gore: None.

Profanity/obscenity: F-gg-t/f-g (16), f-ck (8), a--hole (6), sh-t (5), d-ck (3).

Appropriate ages: 15 and up.

The verdict: Funny and moving, with a heartfelt message of tolerance.

Mr. Rainbow

(October 15), 20th Century Fox, 114 mins., Drama, PG-13

D: Mike Nichols

Starring: Kevin Kline, Hilary Duff, Sandra Bullock, Li'l Bow Wow, Jena Malone, Amanda Bynes

Duff, a Hip, Sassy Urban Teen, is sent away from the city to live with her Eccentric Aunt (Bullock) in coastal Maine while her parents battle through an ugly divorce. Miserable and alienated, Duff is aloof with her new classmates and openly antagonistic to Bullock. But everything changes when she enrolls in a drama course taught by the flamboyant Mr. Rainbow (Kline, in a performance likely to garner him a fourth Academy AwardŽ nomination). In passing down his obsessive love of musical theater, transvestitism and Cher, Mr. Rainbow also teaches his troubled students how to channel their emotions in a constructive way—and "Accent-u-ate the Positive!" Under his guidance, Duff flowers, discovering a latent talent for song and dance, eventually playing the lead in the school's production of South Pacific. Gradually, she also warms to her quirky, well-intentioned aunt and the quiet charms of the sleepy harbor town. But tragedy looms. On the last night of the school production, Mr. Rainbow makes a shocking announcement: because of his fading health, he will retire from teaching at the end of the year. Mr. Rainbow has AIDS.

In the following months, Duff becomes a regular visitor to Kline's lonely beachside cottage. She brings him meals and groceries, and he imparts the wisdom of a life rich in art and music. By summer's end, Mr. Rainbow has died—and Duff has gained an unforgettable education in life, love, "and all that jazz." In the moving final scene, Mr. Rainbow's memorial service is attended by dozens of students whose lives he has touched over the years. The service ends with the mourners party-dancing in drag to "We Are Family"—an affectionate tribute to their unconventional mentor.

Violence/gore: None.

Drugs/alcohol: None.

Sex/nudity: None.

Obscenity/profanity: None.

Appropriate ages: 13 and up.

The verdict: An inspirational crowd-pleaser with a powerful message of tolerance. Kline is marvelous, and Duff shows unexpected range.

Help! My Dad is a Gay!

(November 26), Touchstone, 99 mins., Comedy, PG-13

D: Chris Columbus

Starring: Will Ferrell, Frankie Muniz, Mary-Kate Olsen, Ashley Olsen, Chevy Chase, John Heard, David Spade, Julia Sweeney, Coolio

Widower Dick Butz (Ferrell) seems to be the All-American Father. A Scoutmaster, junior varsity soccer coach, PTA Chair and respected entrepreneur, he's envied by his neighbors and admired by his Hip and Sassy Teenage Children (Muniz and the Olsen Twins). But everything changes when Butz, in the throes of a midlife crisis, makes a shocking announcement to his family: he's coming out as a gay!

Soon, Ferrell is asking for his son's help in picking out dresses and applying lipstick, and selling off his lucrative contracting business to enroll at the Academy of Hair Design! Expelled from the PTA after appearing at a meeting in open-toed heels (with carnation-pink nails), booted out of the Scouts for leading his troop in a campfire sing-along of "Dancing Queen," and shunned by the JV soccer team (goalkeeper Muniz included) after replacing their black-and-silver uniforms with violet pastels, Butz discovers that "going gay is a lot harder than it looks."

Over time, though, the community—and his children—begin to accept Ferrell as the "fabulous creature [he] was always meant to be." The soccer team, mediocre before the uniform switch, proves unstoppable in its new purple duds. The vacuous Olsen twins find that they finally have something in common with their Dad. And Butz's skill with the shears makes him a big hit with the neighbor women. In the movie's charming final scene, Ferrell, Muniz, and the rest of the soccer team celebrate their unlikely city championship win by party-dancing in drag to "We Are Family."

Sex/nudity: None.

Drugs/alcohol: None.

Violence/gore: None.

Profanity/obscenity: Just a few mild innuendoes.

Appropriate ages: 11 and up.

The verdict: A lighthearted romp with a timely message of tolerance.

Matt Williamson is a graduate of The Evergreen State College and the University of Texas School of Law. He was born in Austin, TX, and now lives in Iowa City, IA, where he attends the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. His short story "Discarded Notions" appears in the current issue of Gulf Coast.

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