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movie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Flawless

Starring: Robert De Niro, Phillip Seymour Hoffman
Director: Joel Schumacher
Rated: R
RunTime: 110 Minutes
Release Date: November 1999
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Daphne Rubin-vega, Wilson Jermaine Heredia, Rory Cochrane, Barry Miller

Review by Jerry Saravia
No Rating Supplied

Robert De Niro never bores me as an actor, and is always trying to make a fresh cut out of every character he plays. In "Flawless," De Niro plays a paralyzed cop, and this echoes memories of the mental patient he played in "Awakenings," yet surprisingly his role here is overcome by the dazzling Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Hoffman plays a drag queen named Rusty, who considers "herself" to be an artist - a showgirl with dreams of having a sex operation. Rusty is a show-off - always entertaining any and everyone including a group of drag queens who sing together loudly at his, or, um, her apartment. This infuriates a cop named Walt (De Niro) who lives across the courtyard. Walt is an aching homophobe who also has a low opinion of certain women. When one asks to tango with him, he replies, "You are a whore. She is a lady." One night, Walt gets a stroke when he hears a shooting, and is paralyzed on the right side of his body. It does not take a rocket scientist to know that these two opposites will come together in some way - how and why is the reason of most of these movies with generic buddy-buddy formulas exist in the first place. When we think of this formula, Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte come to mind in "48 HRS." or De Niro and Charles Grodin in the fabulous "Midnight Run." I almost want to pair "Flawless" in the same company, but it is a near-miss.

In a matter of speaking, the thrust of "Flawless" is the developing relationship between Rusty and Walt, as Walt reluctantly takes singing lessons from Rusty to correct his speech impediment. This relationship is often threatened by a subplot involving a secret stash of money and some gangsters - somehow, this feels out-of-place and seems to come from another movie entirely. There are not enough scenes of Walt's inner life, or his relationship with a tango dancer or with his cop buddies. Director Joel Schumacher obviously has an affection for Rusty and the circle of drag queens - this may be very personal terrain for Joel but he never takes it as far as one would hope. Instead, we get more gangster threats involving stolen money and drug deals that make one squirm at the screenwriting level. Does a dead parrot and a kidnapped mother merit any attention in a character study like this one?

What is particularly invigorating about "Flawless" is Philip Seymour Hoffman - his performance is on par with Terence Stamp's subtle drag queen character in "Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert." Hoffman makes the smart choice of not infusing any of the stereotypical cliches often associated with such a character - he makes her human and compassionate and appropriately effeminate. There are some scenes between De Niro and Hoffman, particularly when playing the piano and singing, that will take your breath away. Hoffman can easily add this character to his memorable turns in "Boogie Nights" and "Happiness" - this is an actor I will keep an active watch for the in the future.

De Niro lends another fine character role to his oeuvre - it is a difficult part to play because he has to play it with a speech impediment (sometimes it is difficult to comprehend what he is saying). De Niro is essentially second fiddle to Hoffman, who has the showier part, but his character is too underdeveloped. The transition from homophobe to a compassionate human being is less credible than Nicholson's transition in "As Good As It Gets," but at least De Niro makes Walt touching in his frailness and inexpression.

"Flawless" has its share of flaws - the deletion of the gangster subplot would have improved things greatly - but it has a certain poignance and there are delightful zingers along the way, courtesy of Hoffman. And it is Hoffman's performance that is really flawless - he makes his affinity for Hollywood starlets very inviting. You feel like singing and dancing along with him.

Copyright 1999 Jerry Saravia

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