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'In & Out's' Half-Empty Closet

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
September 19, 1997

Kevin Kline resisting an overpowering impulse to shake his booty to the Village People is one of the many hilarious gags in "In & Out." This manly show of resistance is an attempt to prove to himself that he’s not gay. But after setting up its rather cheeky premise -- is Kline, an effeminate Midwest English teacher, homosexual or not? -- the movie gradually peters out. And despite its attempts to avoid preachiness, the movie does kinda present us with good, decent folk from Indiana (you know: Middle Americans) learning that, goshdurnit, gays are human too.

Kline is Howard Brackett, a rather swishy high school teacher in Greenleaf, Ind., who inspires his students with poetry and literature. Things are looking up. He’s popular with his students. He’s about to marry his longtime fiancee, Emily (Joan Cusack). And Cameron (Matt Dillon), a former pupil-turned professional actor, is up for an Academy Award.

The good news: On national television, Cameron wins the Oscar and acknowledges Howard as a major influence. The bad news: He concludes the tribute with these words: "And he’s gay." Howard and the little town of Greenleaf fall into stunned silence.

Howard’s first order of business is to assure his fiancee, his parents and the sudden invasion of TV journalists (including Tom Selleck as obnoxious reporter Peter Malloy) that he’s a heterosexual, thank you very much. ("Should gays be allowed to handle fresh produce?" asks one reporter.) But Howard’s problems aren’t nearly over, as his students sheepishly inform him. He’s going to have to cure that limp-wristedness.

Here’s where Kline displays his best moments. Holing himself up at home, he slips in a cassette tape that purports to test for homosexuality. It asks revealing questions about the way he walks and dresses. And in the acid test of his life, Howard has to resist dancing to pounding music -- or forever be termed "homo."

For all intents and purposes, "In & Out" ends here. Before he directed people, Frank Oz directed Muppets. He seems to be coming along fine with his own species -- but not quite fast enough. Scriptwriter Paul Rudnick (who wrote "Jeffrey") seems content to keep the movie on one level; as with Rudnick’s script for "Addams Family Values," it never really develops. There’s a whole, overdone routine, too, about Barbra Streisand movies as another test of a man’s gayness quotient. Enough already. And as the harried principal caught up in this controversy, Bob Newhart is reduced to rewarming his old routines.

Actually, the funniest parts of the movie are excerpts from the film that Cameron is originally nominated for. A pompous Hollywood production that pretends to deal with the issues of homosexuality, it’s hilariously pretentious. If Rudnick had focused on that film alone, he could have had himself a real comedy.

IN & OUT (PG-13) — Contains minor sexual situations and profanity.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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