Dustin Hoffman's on a roll in "Tootsie," a role-reversal movie that plays like the flip side of "Victor/Victoria." Hoffman may be dressed as a woman, but this film is no drag.
Hoffman plays Michael Dorsey, a temperamental actor who can't get work despite his skill and dedication. His agent calls him a "cult failure." What to do but dress up as a chunky little Southern matron and land a part on a soap opera "Southwest General," where she quickly becomes a feminist role model to millions of fans. Hoffman's much stronger when he's playing the weaker sex.
It's a suprise when we first see him as Tootsie, picked up by the camera in a crowd scene. He looks like Jane Fonda in "9 to 5," if she hadn't used her exercise book -- glasses, dated hair-do and frumpy duds.
He's not at all like Uncle Miltie, the Monty Python crowd or the queen of "Le Cage Aux Folles": They're as much like women as minstrel-show comics in cork were like black people. Hoffman ditches the swish stereotypes and shows us that he's a better man for having become a woman.
Of course, every suffragette needs a chauvinist pig to castigate. Tootsie has two -- the lecherous soap director (Dabney Coleman) and the lecherous Dr. Medford Brewster (George Gaynes), known as "The Tongue." Too bad there isn't more for Gaynes to do -- he's great fun.
In fact, some of the leads don't come off quite so well. Bill Murray as Tootsie's roommate is wasted and so is Teri Garr, who's used up front to establish Hoffman's unimpeachable masculinity. Garr, doing her lip- chewing bit, plays an insecure actress and minor love interest in a superfluous subplot.
And who needs Garr when there's luscious Jessica Lange as the sensuous star of "Southwest General." Tootsie falls in love with Lange, whose father falls in love with Tootsie and proposes. Meanwhile, The Tongue tries to seduce Tootsie, who's afraid Lange thinks she's a lesbian. Definitely daytime dramatics. The whole thing resolves itself, like a good Shakespearean comedy, with sexual identities intact.
The screenplay, a little speechy at times, sees the world according to Alan Alda and Hoffman tends to swallow his lines as Michael Dorsey. He's well-intentioned and the film's well-intentioned, but we still haven't closed the gender gap. TOOTSIE -- Aspen Hill, AMC Skyline 6, Avalon, K-B Janus, Laurel Cinema, NTI Landover, NTI Tysons, Roth's Seven Locks, Roth's Quince Orchard, Showcase Andrews Manor, Showcase Beltway Plaza, Springfield Mall.