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This movie won an Oscar for best Costume Design

‘The Adventures of Priscilla’ (R)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
August 26, 1994

"The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" is an outlandish Australian road movie that gives new meaning to the motor mouth's challenge, "Wanna drag?" In what is little more than a fashion victims' show on wheels, a trio of female impersonators pit their wiles--and sometimes their fists--against the Outback's good ol' boys. And the feather boas fly when "La Cage aux Folles" meets "The Road Warrior."

Terence Stamp is the movie's chief asset, playing the world-weary transsexual Bernadette, who joins drag queens Mitzi (Hugo Weaving) and Felicia (Guy Pearce) on a cross-country tour of Australia aboard the lavender school bus Priscilla. His lashes thick with mascara and his bra saggy with water balloons, Stamp doesn't make a pretty changeling, but he does make for a ladylike one.

Bernadette (ne' Ralph, but mention it at your peril) can still throw a punch worthy of John Wayne and drink Dean Martin under the table. She is obliged to do both in the course of the movie, to prove herself and to protect her friends from the bigots and bumpkins.

Felicia, a neurotic rich kid fond of cropped tops and minis, is the troublemaker of the troupe. He just can't seem to get it through his pretty little head that kangaroo wranglers don't cotton to men in dresses, no matter how cunningly fashioned from flip-flops.

Bernadette and the more sensible Mitzi are forever intervening on Felicia's behalf. Sometimes they brawl, but more often they win over their enemies by putting on a little show. Festooned in ostrich plumes and shimmering with sequins, they lip-sync and dance to the disco music of Gloria Gaynor, the Village People, CeCe Peniston and ABBA. Felicia is an ABBA fanatic, having gone so far as to collect and carry about one group member's stool sample.

The dialogue tends to be just that gross and all too often takes the form of bickering, with Felicia baiting Mitzi about his ex-wife, who has hired them to perform in her casino in a remote resort. Ostensibly this gig is the reason for the trip, but Mitzi, a k a Tick, reveals that he'll also be meeting his son for the first time.

When the troupe finally arrives, Tick attempts to get back in touch with his masculine side in hopes of fooling his son, a well-adjusted and accepting lad who loves him just the way he is. Bernadette also finds an open mind at the end of her journey with a gallant mechanic (Bill Hunter).

Writer-director Stephan Elliott is obviously fond of his characters, and this may account for the upbeat story line, but it blinds him to how very annoying two hours of dishing can be. Thank heaven for the pit stops, scenic breaks that get the fellows out of that darn bus and into the expansive countryside. These moments are the movie's most appealing and creatively staged: three guys in drag against the majesty of Mother Earth. Quiet scenes, they also have the most to say.

"The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" is rated R for explicit language and subject matter.

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