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Movie review: 'In and Out'

September 24, 1997

Homosexuality has become such a safe, sanitized topic in our social libertine politically correct culture that the "I am Spartacus" recast as "I am gay" at the end of the new movie "In and Out" seems wholly appropriate.

Every tabloid cover you look at that is not filled with gossip on the rebirth of Elvis or the endless death of Diana has some celebrity coming out. We have been so inundated with "gay"ness that even the vernacular has had to adopt to the terms like "coming out" and "lifetime partner. " This is certainly nothing negative for life in general, but it presents a problem for a movie in particular.

"In and Out," written by Paul Rudnick, wants to be an outrageous comedy, an irreverent skewering of popular culture and its homophobia. Not only, though, is the subject matter homogenized (no pun intended), but the movie treats it as such admist all its "wicked" one-liners. "In and Out" is replete with whimsical score, stock characters, and sitcom generalizations.

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The movie originated from the acceptance speech Tom Hanks made after winning an Academy Award for his portrayal of a homosexual lawyer in "Philadelphia," in which speech Hanks took the opportunity to "out" a high school drama teacher. If this seems like material sufficient for a scathing bon mot, surrounded by the context of party conversation, and insufficient for a full-length movie, surrounded by the context of an Event, that is because it is so.

"In and Out" is one of countless comedies which humor derives not from the characters or narratives, but a central gag. The fact that filmmakers would think that the public embarrassment and humiliation of a previously "closeted" man, not to mention the psychological aftershocks this revelation would carry, are grounds for a "gag" is a bit troubling.

Because Howard Brackett, the English teacher who receives his sexual-orientation enlightenment via an Oscar-acceptance speech from former classmate Cameron Drake (Matt Dillon), is played by Kevin Kline, and his supporting cast includes Joan Cusack, Bob Newhart, and Debbie Reynolds, there is more than enough merriment in "In and Out," but there never is anything truly hilarious and certainly nothing shocking.

The irony is that Rudnick, who can be quite acerbic with his pen when he so chooses, wants us to laugh out loud at homosexual stereotypes at the same time that we embrace them. Yes, it is time to laugh at our confoundment over gender relations -a few billion years and we still are unsettled when it comes to intercourse - but Ellen DeGeneres, tired as the citing of her is, did so in much more fresh, funny matter with "The Puppy Episode."

Although he often can double me over with laughter - rent "Addams Family Values" and "Jeffrey" or read his Premiere Magazine column under pseudonym Libbie Gelman-Waxner to realize his potential - I am hesitant to call Rudnick a great wit. His levity lacks the philosophical intonation of Oscar Wilde and the wreckless energy of Lenny Bruce.

I am sorely disappointed by his effort - or lack thereof - with "In and Out," which has not one strong character (though Kline and Cusack manage to imbue their caricatures quite memorably) and perhaps two or three laugh-out-loud moments.

It is a conventional, contrived attempt at light satire - which is an oxymoron if there ever was one; satire is meant to be fierce, hard, ruthless as that which ridicules. When "In and Out" mocks suburban naivete, it has nothing to fight with but niceties and ignorance. It should have stayed in the closet until it had something biting to say.

Jason is a senior at North Hagerstown High School.

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