Box Office Worldwide: $8M
Production compaines: Universal Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Director: Michael Lembeck
Its plot is "Some Like It Hot" meets "Victor/Victoria" and it's not half as clever as either, but "Connie and Carla" -- Nia Vardalos' writing-starring follow-up to "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" -- earns its share of amused grins for campy show tunes and cross-dressing gags.
Vardalos and Toni Collette ("The Sixth Sense," "About a Boy") play corny showgirl wannabes from the Midwest who equate doing dinner theater with hitting the big time. But while enthusiastically belting out over-costumed clinkers at a half-empty airport lounge, they inadvertently witness a murder and are forced to run for their lives from a vicious drug dealer (Robert John Burke).
Panicking about where to hide, they decide to find "someplace where there's no theater, no musical theater, no dinner theater. No culture at all!"
"Los Angeles?" suggests Connie (Vardalos). And the next thing they know, they're pretending to be men who pretend to be women -- headlining a drag-queen cabaret act in West Hollywood, where their trilling renditions of Kanter and Ebb, Rogers and Hammerstein, and Webber and Rice show-stoppers not only fit right in, but also engender envy in their lip-syncing stage sisters as well.
Collette and Vardalos each give reasonably entertaining discount-Lucille-Ball performances and look surprisingly spot-on in their over-the-top makeup. The latter has a charmingly awkward chemistry with David Duchovny, who is outstanding as the movie's subtle straight man -- both sexually and humorously. He plays the long-lost brother of the drag joint's bartender ("Angels In America" Tony-winner Stephen Spinella), who is slowly opening his mind to his older sibling's lifestyle. Of course his inexplicable attraction to Connie, whom he thinks is a man dressed as a woman, only serves to confuse the poor guy further.
But for all the movie's light-hearted humor, it's also pretty light-weight in the script department. Vardalos uses expository dialogue as a crutch, writes whole incongruous scenes just to set up 30-second pay-offs later in the film, and relies on the viewer's good graces to forgive her many Screenwriting 101 contrivances -- like the scene in which a hostile audience is turned around in 10 seconds by one person's declarative clapping, which cascades into a rousing round of feel-good applause.
Her moments of sincerity, especially in the subplot about the reuniting brothers, have the ring of uncomfortable truth to them, but often the setups for those scenes do not. Why does the bartender get made up in mild drag to meet his brother for the first time when during the rest of his off-work hours he dresses like any other casually fashionable gay man on the street? And, while equally sincere, her anti-fashion messages espousing a realistic body image (which was part of what audiences identified with in "Greek Wedding") feel tacked on as obligatory.
Director Michael Lembeck ("The Santa Clause 2") contributes to the picture's incongruity problems, following a scene of "we gotta get outta here!" consternation (when the bad guys arrive in the last act) with a scene of Connie and Carla calmly doing their make-up and casually answering their front door. He also fails to notice that two lunk-head boyfriends (Nick Sandow and Dash Mihok) who follow the girls to L.A. disappear inexplicably from scenes where they've served their purpose and are no longer needed. (Lembeck has much more success cutting away to a henchman suffering through "Mame" over and over again while hunting for the girls through every roadside dinner theater in the country.)
"Connie and Carla" is bargain-matinee entertaining, like a sitcom you watch when nothing better is on. But it's so focused on its sitcom-y concept and its cheesy stage shows that the film misses out completely on what should have been its best source of comedy -- the fact that these two women have no clue that their enormous success as drag queens (their show saves the struggling gay bar) depends on their misguided showbiz earnestness being taken for high camp.