`Flawless' far from perfect, with De Niro in wasted role

Movie review

November 24, 1999|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

"Flawless" isn't. Not by a long shot.

It's obvious and stereotypical. It's leaden and unconvincing. It's not nearly as outrageous as it thinks it is.

And it offers the sad sight of Robert De Niro playing yet another physically flawed character, in a performance that's more artifice than acting. At this stage in his career, no one should doubt De Niro's ability to shape his body and soul around the most damaged characters imaginable, be they overweight fighters, deranged taxi drivers, murderous psychopaths or comatose mental patients. But even De Niro has to have more to work with than a few physical quirks, which is about all he has here.

De Niro is Walt Koontz, a retired security guard who's vain and crusty and darn proud of it. He specializes in walking into places as though he owns them. He's also full of hate and resentment, which we know because he delights in taunting his singing drag-queen neighbor, Rusty (Philip Seymour Hoffman).

But, wouldn't you know it, Walt's about to get his comeuppance. While rushing to the aid of someone under attack in a nearby apartment, he suffers a debilitating stroke that leaves him barely able to walk or talk. Still, he refuses all offers of help (he's vain, remember?) and returns to his apartment, determined to make it on his own.

Of course, he can't. He needs help, but is too proud to ask any of his friends. So why not ask his enemies?

Why not indeed. When a therapist suggests that singing might improve his speech, Walt lets down his guard enough to ask Rusty for help. Rusty, desperate for cash, agrees.

So begins another variation on "The Odd Couple," if Felix were played by Ru Paul and Oscar by Rush Limbaugh. Wanna bet Rusty has a humanizing influence on Walt?

Hoffman, so good as the porn hanger-on in "Boogie Nights," is marvelous as Rusty. Even though writer-director Joel Schumacher ("Batman and Robin," "8 Millimeter") makes his character as broad a caricature as the law will allow, you can feel Hoffman desperately trying to find some there there, to bring some nuance to the role.

But it's a losing battle and a wasted performance. In typical Schumacher style, the world of "Flawless" is painted in blacks and whites; no gray areas allowed. And the supposed bond between Walt and Rusty never grows or develops, it just happens because the script says it happens.

Such a lack of nuance may work in Gotham City, but in New York's Lower East Side, it's a fatal flaw.


Starring Robert De Niro and Philip Seymour Hoffman

Written and directed by Joel Schumacher

Released by MGM

Rated R

Running time: 111 minutes

Sun score: **

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