In & Out

In & Out is just not as incessantly funny as its ubiquitous trailers would have you believe. From that somewhat obvious, back-handed compliment, we dive into a film that is neither the screwball satire nor the touching human drama it takes so many flying leaps at becoming over its hour-and-a-half course. As one or the other (or, more appropriately, one tempered by the other), In & Out would have been an effective film, but, alas, it was not to be. Perhaps, on some inanely speculative level, the film's split personality is a form-follows-title pun.

No matter, though; what we're left with at the very least is a coming-out film that presents a happy alternative to the more commonly portrayed Midwesterners-as-queer-bashers archetype. Better still, delivering said happiness is a set of wacky and humane small town characters (think "Northern Exposure" on the farm and you're not far off) played by an engaging ensemble of young and not-so-young Hollywood standouts that is decidedly not motoring in cruise control.

Greenleaf, Indiana high school English and drama teacher Howard Brackett (Kline) is about to be married to Emily, his fiancée of three years (played with just-off-the-beat comic virtuosity by Joan Cusack). If the advertising has done its job, you know the rest (even if you missed the Village People-sportin' spots, it may sound familiar). One of Brackett's fave students past, Cameron Drake (Matt Dillon expertly aping both Matt Dillon and Brad Pitt) is nominated for an Academy Award. Of course Drake takes the prize and, in a very Hanks-ian fashion, simultaneously dedicates the Oscar to Brackett and outs him.

The obligatory media circus ensues and Howard, constantly hounded by a smirking shark of a gay tabloid reporter desperate for an exclusive story (Tom Selleck), must confront his Barbra Streisand-loving, romantic poetry-teaching, ultra-neat, closeted inner gay -- and he has to do it before his wedding. This is no mere self-imposed self-examination time limit. Worse yet, his mother (a pleasantly psychotic Debbie Reynolds) needs a wedding -- whether or not her son is gay.

Director Frank Oz and screenwriter Paul Rudnick have created an amiably zany alternate universe and given its inhabitants several either genuinely hilarious or admirably human moments and even scenes. But they can't seem to stitch it all together well enough to either suspend disbelief for any length of time or effectively integrate the real-life and the purely cinematic. The "Look now, this is the satire!" quality of the tabloid reporters (excepting Selleck) and the movie and modeling industry leaves a condescending taste in the mouth.

Though the laughs, when they aren't force-fed, are pure and you leave the theater with a smile on your face, Oz, Rudnick and company might have looked a little deeper into their own filmmaking psyches before they set to telling the story of someone else's inner conflict.

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