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Review by Joe Barlow
Posted 3 December 1999

Written and Directed by Joel Schumacher 

Starring Robert De Niro,
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Barry Miller, 
Christopher Bauer, Skipp Sudduth,
Wilson Jermaine Heredia, Nashom Benjamin,
Scott Allen Cooper, Rory Cochrane,
Daphne Rubin-Vega, and Wanda De Jesus 

You have to pity poor Joel Schumacher. Not only is he accused of single-handedly destroying the Batman franchise, but his last film, the bleak 8mm, was ridiculed by the majority of critics in America. I can visualize Schumacher's conversation with himself: "Hmm... I've just made several critical duds in a row. What am I doing wrong? Let's see. The Batman films and 8mm all share dark, creepy atmospheres, and that genre's obviously not working for me. Let's go the opposite route on the follow-up."

It's almost cute the way Schumacher rolls with the punches, and it's no surprise that in Flawless, a title that almost dares critics not to like the movie, the writer/director tries to play it safe... or at least as safe as any film which centers around a flamboyant transvestite can be considered to be. Everything here seems specifically constructed to avoid offensiveness or friction, and it's the movie's single biggest problem: everything has been so homogenized that what could have been a fascinating film comes out as a cinematic vanilla pudding, lacking any sort of flavor whatsoever.

Walter Koonz (Robert De Niro) is a cranky ex-cop and raging homophobe who finds himself partially paralyzed and unable to speak after suffering a stroke. Embarrassed by his condition, Koonz begins taking voice lessons from Rusty Zimmerman (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a local transvestite who adheres to every gay stereotype and cliche' imaginable. You'll no doubt be shocked to learn that as they grow closer, they form a deep bond. Just consider this the low-calorie version of As Good as it Gets.

Flawless desperately wants to be The Odd Couple, and there are moments in which it comes close, drawing us into the lives of the characters as they come to terms with each other and their differences. Both De Niro and Hoffman are engaging actors, with Hoffman's bubbling screen persona serving as a brilliant counterpoint to De Niro's gruff demeanor. They each have a firm handle on two very challenging characters (De Niro actually wore weights in his clothes to help him prepare for his role as a stroke victim), and they work well together.

But sadly, the performances are all Flawless has going for it. The few sparks of fire De Niro and Hoffman are able to inject into the story are quickly extinguished by Schumacher's adherence to the lowest common denominator, such as the laughable finale, which is so deeply mired in clichés that it's hard to resist the temptation to hurl popcorn at the screen. Nor is the drama helped by the unimaginative shooting methods employed by Schumacher. We may as well be watching a TV sitcom--or a play.

I'll give Schumacher an 'A' for effort: with Flawless he's demonstrated a willingness to deviate from his previous work, and he's created a film with the potential for power and drama. Unfortunately, the director does not yet appear to have either the confidence or ability to helm a project which requires such depth; hence, we're treated to countless gay stereotypes and unimaginative plot twists (Stolen drug money? Yawn). Oh well. It was a nice try, Joel, and I mean that. Maybe next time.

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