Husky men in drag may be good for a sketch-comedy guffaw, but as the basis for an entire movie the idea always gets stretched way too thin.
It's the difference between "The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert," a good movie with authentic transvestites who happen to be fun and funny, and "To Wong Fu, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar," an inane movie built on nothing more than the incongruity of seeing Patrick Swayze, Wesley Snipes and John Leguizamo in flamboyant frocks. (OK, Leguizamo looked pretty damn good.)
But far worse than even "To Wong Fu" is "All the Queen's Men," in which decking out burly boys as "broads" is little more than a fatuous gimmick -- the kind of 25-words-or-less concept that is the basis of most bad movies: Wouldn't it be funny if a bunch of Allied soldiers went undercover as assembly-line women in a German factory during World War II?
Um...no. But here's a movie about it anyway.
Matt LeBlanc (Joey on "Friends") gives a passable performance as an American soldier "captured" by the British after successfully sneaking across enemy lines and returning with an Enigma machine (the German's famous decoder, recently pivotal to the plots of "Enigma" and "U-571"). In a scene that is mistaken for funny by writer David Schneider and director Stefan Ruzowitzky, LeBlanc is mistaken for a double agent by the dolts on the front line, who also think the Enigma is a Nazi typewriter.
"Do you have ID?" the Brits ask when he says he's American. To which LeBlanc quips, "I'm over 21 if that's what you're worried about."
To avoid a stockade sentence (couldn't LeBlanc's superiors clear this up?) he agrees to lead a motley crew of inept officers -- a sissy-bookworm codebreaker, a gruff, 60-something desk jockey, and a once dishonorably discharged homosexual played by drag comic Eddie Izzard -- on a dolled-up mission to get another Enigma. (The dumb soldiers destroyed the one he had) from the facility where they're built.
Aside from the antiquated and loudly trumpeted cross-dressing gags (a training montage includes lipstick application, bra stuffing and leg shaving), the movie tries to be an ill-advisedly earnest mix of sub-par slapstick and sensitive moments about the horrors of war (an air-raid aftermath sequence) and about lifestyle discrimination (Izzard is reunited with an old boyfriend who's had it rough in Berlin).
Ruzowitzky badly miscalculates this mixed tone, winding up with such superficial sincerity and feeble humor that there's little to do as an audience member but wonder about the plot's gaping holes.
Why is this bungling bunch sent on such a mission? Only one is a real soldier, only one speaks German, only one looks remotely feminine and only LeBlanc has any espionage experience. Why weren't female spies recruited instead? ("No more women on combat missions," says an English officer. But this isn't a combat mission -- they're infiltrating a factory staffed by women.) Why does the movie take place in 1944 -- years after the Allies already had a couple Enigmas?
About five minutes before the credits roll, a thinly contrived explanation is offered for some of these questions, but by that time it's too late. "All the Queen's Men" has already hit bottom with the wet thud of cheaply simplistic comedy.
Just about its only saving grace is the fact that being a low-budget Canadian-English production probably saved the movie from being saddled with incompetent "Saturday Night Live"-spawn players, for "All the Queen's Men" is about the caliber of entertainment you'd expect from Rob Schneider and David Spade. And anyone who remembers the "Gap girls" sketches on "SNL" knows how awful they look in drag.