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‘Straight Talk’ (PG)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 03, 1992

How much do you love Dolly Parton? For you to enjoy "Straight Talk," it'd better be more than water in the desert. She doesn't just star in this gal-makes-good fable. Her songs -- eight of them -- fill the soundtrack. After seeing "Straight Talk," you'll either have the Dolly high of your life, or you'll have nightmares about an evil, blond-tressed squeeze toy that scuttles around in high heels saying, "Tinkle or get off the potty, tinkle or get off the potty . . . "

She says stuff like that in this movie. As Southern lass Shirlee Kenyon, she's a sassy, recently fired dance instructor who dumps her Nowheresville life for fame and fortune in Chicago. Fate smiles kindly when she gets hired as a radio station receptionist. In a mixup, she finds herself in front of a live microphone, as the host of a talk show. She's got to take callers' questions immediately. A nervous moment or two later, it becomes clear Dolly was born to tell it like it is to the hurtin' listeners out there.

When a woman caller complains of her cheating man "Bud," Dolly-the-host says, "Did you say 'Bud' or 'Stud'?" To a woman whose boss doesn't appreciate her enough, she says, "Grab your bowling bag and get the hell out of there." Actually, when Dolly leaves hard-drinking, redneck boyfriend Michael Madsen early in the movie, she takes his bowling bag with her. Some kind of bowling bag motif there.

There's a horn-honking theme too. "Sometimes," Dolly advises another woman, "you gotta just get out and honk your own horn." In the interest of not giving anything away, let's just say the honking thing comes back at a climactic point in the movie.

Chicagoans fall madly in love with Dr. Shirlee, as she comes to be called. We're not talking most of Chicago, we're talking all of Chicago. Cops hail her from police boats. Construction workers give her high fives. She's got a ready smile and a common-sense answer for everything. She's good people. She's down to earth. She becomes the Windy City's own Crocodile Dollee.

That's why she's never comfortable with the fake Doc moniker. But sleazy station promoter Griffin Dunne (who gave her the nickname) insists she keep it. Sooner or later, the true story about her less-than-academic background has to come out. The one to ferret it out is James Woods. Yes, Mr. Intense. In a sort of kindly, Fred MacMurrayish role, he plays a muckraking journalist who uncovers more than just the facts on Dolly.

He also gets to deliver the most inappropriate gag of the movie, a left-field joke about Dolly's breasts. When he and Dolly prepare to make love one night, they start tossing clothes. All we can see are the garments and underthings creating a pile in the bedroom doorway. When Dolly's brassiere is doffed, Woods (from around the corner) exclaims, "Ho-ly Mo-ley!"

Well, perhaps comic integrity is the last thing to lambaste this movie over. Maybe, one should concentrate on the positive. For instance, if this movie doesn't work out for Dolly, she could always get a job as a stilt-walker at the circus. The perilous pumps she wears, without falling over or twisting an ankle, have trained her for a career of vertiginous, high-walking showmanship.

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