Flawless Movie Review

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The recipe for Joel Schumacher's post-"Batman" cry for redemption goes a little something like this:

Take one part "As Good As It Gets," but give the anti-social bigot a gritty, blue-collar bent and a debilitating stroke instead of an obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Add one part irritating drag queen movie ("To Wong Fu..." will do nicely) and two parts syrupy, medicinal social commentary.

When batter gets thin or starts curdle, toss in a pinch of random street gang subplot and beat vigorously to mask the flavor and force a climax to rise.

Pour the concoction over actors that deserve much better, give it a title that invites mockery, and serve for $8 a helping.

Such is "Flawless," a misguided Oscar-baiting actors' showcase drama about an abrasive, judgmental, lonely, retired cop (Robert De Niro) and his screaming drag queen neighbor (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who overcome their mutual disdain to form a bond of true friendship.

You can roll your eyes now.

The catalyst for this reluctant camaraderie is a stroke suffered by craggy ex-cop Walter Koontz (De Niro) while defending their residential hotel from a pusher on a rampage over missing drug money. Walter is partially paralyzed and his speech becomes slurred, so his doctor recommends singing lessons as therapy.

Unable to afford a speech therapist and feeling glum and self-conscious about being seen by friends in his condition, he turns to "Busty Rusty" (Hoffman), his fah-bulous, finger-snapping floormate, who De Niro had always made a habit of picking on when Rusty and his "girls" rehearsed for their various night club acts.

Out of fiscal necessity, Rusty agrees to be Walter's voice coach. Polar opposites, they snipe at each other until gradually each fellow's "I'm OK, You're OK" humanity surfaces from the icy depths of their hearts.

With such extraordinary actors as De Niro and Hoffman as tent poles, "Flawless" could have been a quality character piece if only writer-director Schumacher had written deeper characters or exercised even a modicum of self-restraint.

De Niro plays his malady and his hopelessness with heartbreakingly convincing empathy, but take away the stroke and the guy has little to work with. And really, who wants to see De Niro sing -- let alone sing with a speech impediment?

As for Hoffman, there's a strong, subtle, tender performance struggling to get out here. This is an actor whose incredible range has allowed him to play everything from a habitual masturbator in "Happiness" and a snooty medical student in "Patch Adams" to a tornado chaser in "Twister" and a pathetic, porn-industry groupie in "Boogie Nights."

But it's obvious from watching him in "Flawless" that Schumacher was demanding bigger and queenier after every take, and Hoffman's brilliance is lost in an exaggerated tizzy of agitated arm-waving, clipped-voice diatribes and verklemt tears.

The oh-so-scripted road to friendship between these two men is simplistic and transparent, but not nearly as transparent as the presence of the drug dealer subplot, which just hangs over the story like the proverbial other shoe, waiting drop a chase scene into the last reel because writer-director Schumacher couldn't think of any other way to wrap up his movie.

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Flawless Rating

" Grim "

Rating: R, Opened: Wednesday, November 24, 1999

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