None Like It Lame

Connie and Carla models a classic, but ends up being a drag.

Connie and Carla
An embarrassment to cross-dressers everywhere.
An embarrassment to cross-dressers everywhere.
When we first see the title characters of Connie and Carla, they are loud-mouthed junior high girls, mugging in the school cafeteria. A minute later, they are loudmouthed grown-ups, screaming out show tunes in a passengers' lounge at O'Hare. Five minutes after that, these goofy showbiz wannabes are suddenly on the lam from a Chicago drug dealer, who wrongly thinks they've filched a kilo of his coke. Starting to sound familiar? Of course it is. Inevitably, the two fugitives flee (loudly) to Los Angeles, where, in a lousy writer's idea of a contemporary twist on an old theme, they disguise themselves as drag queens in a gay nightclub.

Alas, Connie and Carla is just getting started. There are 80 more minutes of lame hidden-identity jokes and reheated psychobabble about gender-bending and social acceptance. Eighty more minutes of amateurish production numbers unworthy of their sources -- Cabaret, Funny Girl, and South Pacific, among others. Eighty more minutes of shameless rip-off and ham-fisted fraud. Connie and Carla doesn't just do violence to the memory of Billy Wilder's brilliant sex farce, Some Like It Hot; it's so clumsy, it might give cross-dressing itself a bad name.

The perpetrator and plagiarist here is Nia Vardalos, the writer-actress who scored an unexpected (and unwarranted) success a couple of years back with My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Vardalos (who plays the overwrought Connie) seems incapable of restraining any impulse, no matter how florid or garish, and her choice of a screeching-mate is even more unfortunate. As Carla, Toni Collette (late of The Hours and The Sixth Sense) maintains such a high pitch of hysteria throughout this hour and a half that you may expect her lavishly bewigged head to simply explode. It is one of the movie's many conceits that cornfed Connie and Carla not only convince a far hipper, more observant transvestite crowd in West Hollywood that they, too, are men impersonating women, but they wow the locals with their unbridled caterwauling.

But if you think Liza Minnelli's over the top, wait'll you get a load of Vardalos attacking the scenery like a starved hyena, or Collette shrieking like a banshee with her jaw three inches from the camera. An overdose of Prozac wouldn't do it for this pair. Better soak that shop rag in chloroform, Jack, and clamp it over their noses.

Accessories to the crime include an uncomfortable-looking David Duchovny, who bravely essays the part of a bewildered straight guy whose older brother (Stephen Spinella) has vanished into the L.A. drag queen scene, and who falls for Connie without quite knowing why. We've also got Boris McGiver as a dimwitted Chicago thug sent in pursuit of the "girls" (instead, he falls for dinner theater) and a thoroughly artificial cameo by the ancient Debbie Reynolds as herself. The most authentic performers here are the real cross-dressers, an irony Wilder himself would likely savor.

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