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'In & Out': Closet Encounters

By Rita Kempley Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
September 19, 1997

"In & Out" pays lip service to homosexuality -- Tom Selleck plants a warm, wet one on co-star Kevin Kline -- but for the most part, this hilarious caper's gay characters are knee-deep in the American mainstream.

Little distinguishes the good-natured folks of the movie's Capraesque small-town setting one from the other. Oh, sure, the comedy's kindhearted hero, Howard Brackett (Kline), has a weakness for Barbra Streisand. But his other defining traits -- liking Shakespeare, being neat and using one's napkin -- could just as easily describe Miss Manners as this beloved high school drama teacher.

Howard is on the verge of wedding his longtime sweetheart, Emily (Joan Cusack), when a former student (Matt Dillon) calls Howard's sexuality into question during the Academy Awards.

Dillon's bottle-blond stud, now a Hollywood superstar, wins the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in "To Serve & Protect," a saccharine message movie about gay army buddies. In a bumbling acceptance speech, he thanks his high school teacher for his guidance, then clumsily adds the postscript that Howard is, of course, gay.

This comes as a shock to Howard, who has convinced himself his chaste three-year relationship with the devoted Emily has to do with his respect for his bride-to-be and the institution of marriage. Howard's parents (Debbie Reynolds and Wilford Brimley), his students and the other townspeople are similarly thrown into a comical debate over Howard's true denomination.

The Oscar night revelation also draws a media blitz, including a tabloid TV reporter (Selleck), to the farm community of Greenleaf, Ind., where the corn still grows tall and sweet. He starts out in pursuit of the story, but ends up romancing the hero.

While Howard practically faints in the corn patch when their lips meet, he can't bring himself to accept the truth about his Streisand fixation. In hopes of finding an easier out, he seeks the counsel of his friends, fellow teachers and, finally, a self-improvement tape titled "How to Be a Man." Along with tips on properly adjusting one's privates, the tape advises against ever exclaiming "What a fabulous window treatment!" at a truck stop. And at all costs, the tape warns, avoid rhythm and grace.

As dashing as he is daft, Kline demonstrates both agility and style whether he's playing opposite Selleck's improbable gay love interest or Cusack's dazzlingly endearing straight one. Bob Newhart, stuttering an excess of malapropisms, also turns up as Greenleaf High School's befuddled principal and its milquetoast villain.

Written by Paul Rudnick ("Addams Family Values") and directed by Frank Oz, "In & Out" goes out of its way to be politically incorrect, yet manages to simultaneously flaunt and flout gay stereotypes. It's dishy, but not swishy; light, but not in its loafers; gay, but not nelly; tres but not fey . . .

In & Out is rated PG-13 for its adult theme.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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