Flawless (1999)

by Rhonda Baughman


What's wrong with this picture?

Loquacious. Confounding. Asymmetrical. Never-ending. Cliched. Redundant. Logorrheic. Unfunny. Meandering. Blase. And frankly, downright boring, too…

These are the first of many derogatory adjectives that come to my mind when trying to describe writer-director Joel Schumacher’s new film, Flawless, which stars Robert DeNiro and Philip Seymour Hoffman (the latter being one of my favorite character actors, who has, sadly, two recent misses with Flawless and The Talented Mr. Ripley).

cover art


Director: Joel Schumacher
Cast: Robert DeNiro, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Barry Miller, Daphne Rubin-Vega

US theatrical: 24 Nov 1999 (General release)

Review [2.Apr.2008]

Tragically, even with these two great performers, the film unravels quickly. They have virtually nothing to work with, because the film has a profoundly weak script. It seems that Schumacher has forgotten everything he might have learned about writing and directing. I remember his earlier work well. I like to think of Schumacher as the director behind the flashy punk-vampire flick The Lost Boys, the authorial wit behind St. Elmo’s Fire, and the director of 8MM, a fascinating exploration of cultural perversions. And even if you have reservations about his hacking up of the Batman series, Flawless is even worse. We might hope that it’s just a scratch on a mostly glossy career surface, and he’ll do better next time.

It’s not easy to admit that the only reason I remained in the theater for the duration of this film was the fact that I was reviewing this film for PopMatters. It’s even harder to say that both Hoffman and DeNiro were horrendous to watch. It was just plain sad to see them attempt roles not even remotely suited to their talents. Hoffman plays Rusty, an aging drag queen with regrets about the past and hopes for a better life, and DeNiro portrays Walt Koontz, an tough ex-cop who suffers a stroke and, as speech therapy, takes singing lessons from Rusty. As he must come to terms with his homophobia, Rusty must come to terms with his own emotional traumas. And the rest of us have to watch them.

I like to find something interesting in every film, something noteworthy or something meaningful. But alas, Flawless has forced me to admit that this cannot be achieved every time. I’m not going to try to pretend there’s something worthwhile here. Flawless attempts to deal with so many things all at once — drug deals, gangster-posers, a chase scene, a hooker with a heart of gold, and too much preaching on social tolerance — that nothing comes to a logical conclusion in the end.

One of the film’s problems is that the characters engage in banter that is barely funny and often downright contrived. And the running gags remind me a bit of 1996’s Kingpin, that is, they are both corny and crude. But as I was lamenting over such technical failures — poor dialogue and slow-paced direction — I started to ponder the film’s themes and cultural relevance. This made me feel even worse. Predictable and yawn-inducing it may be, but Flawless is also an uninformed representation of alternate lifestyles (say, those of drag queens and cops) and the possible relations between them.

For one example, Walt’s a middle-aged man suffering from a stroke and obvious homophobia. More to the point, he seems to be fearful of anything that is “different” from his meat-and-potatoes experience. But here you see him suddenly accept his new drag-queen neighbor in a matter of a few weeks, alter his perception completely, and in the end, save his flamboyant neighbor’s life. Secondly, you see an aging drag queen take under his wing a man who has ridiculed him repeatedly, and alienating his own friends in order to do so. What’s wrong with this picture?

Finally, the subplot involving truly stereotypical cops and bad guys is too silly to hold the attention span of an audience with any sign of intelligence. Bumbling cops, slick drug-addicts, and criminals who are peculiarly able to sniff out that something is amiss: such two-dimensional elements are completely cheating the audience of any believable or involving characterization.

It is far too easy to just say “Flawless” is flawed, as no movie is perfect, but for it to be off on so many levels, just left me leaving the theater feeling cheated. I’ll sum it up with a quote from Hoffman and a quote from Baughman, respectively: “I’m lonely. I’m ugly. I’m a drag queen.” Oh yeah? Well, “I’m dissatisfied. I’m quirky. I’m a writer.” And because I’m the latter, I can say that, while there is obviously nothing wrong with lonely drag queens, we certainly didn’t need this tedious, inconsequential movie to tell us that.

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