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Movie Review : 'Outrageous' Sequel Tops Original

October 16, 1987|KEVIN THOMAS | Times Staff Writer

Remember "Outrageous," that modest and appealing Canadian film about a hairdresser and an aspiring female impersonator and his friendship with a pretty schizophrenic? Now that 10 years have passed, "Too Outrageous" (at the Beverly Center Cineplex) imagines where these two are today and where they're headed.

"Too Outrageous" is funny, heart-warming and better than the original, which tended to equate its hero's homosexuality with its heroine's mental disorders. This time writer-director Dick Benner avoids that impression and instead emphasizes the sustaining qualities of the friendship between Craig Russell's Robin and Hollis McLaren's Liza. "Too Outrageous," like its predecessor, is low budget and a bit callow and awkward and even a trifle square, but it has an easiness and a generosity of spirit that allows both Russell and McLaren to glow. "Too Outrageous" is a most loving, caring kind of film that makes you feel good to watch it. For all its humor and sentiment Benner nevertheless acknowledges the specter of AIDS in the gay community in a way that anchors the film to reality.

In catching up with Robin and Liza, we learn that Robin has been headlining at a Greenwich Village club for nine years; that drugs have helped bring Liza's illness under control, and that she has discovered the therapeutic value of writing as a way of exorcising her demons. At this moment neither of them has a lover, but they have formed a family along with Robin's manager Bob (David McIlwraith, in a strong reprise) and his lover Luke (Ron White), who is also Robin's accompanist. Theirs is a comfortably modest existence, but it's about to be disrupted.

An ambitious young talent agent (Lynne Cormack, who brings zest and conviction to a part that's essentially a caricature) sees in Robin the chance to make it to the big time and persuades him to try to expand his professional horizons. Although Robin seems an unlikely choice and although Benner's view of high-powered show-biz tactics are unconvincing, this premise has valid, credible consequences, presenting a challenge to Robin's priorities and values. For a while, life for both Robin and Liza seems too good to be true. Liza acquires a handsome lover (Frank Pellegrino)--and so does Robin, a well-muscled young singer (Paul Eves) with whom Robin, as Judy Garland, performs an engaging "For Me and My Gal."

"Too Outrageous" accommodates many opportunities for Russell to do his amusing carbons, which now include even Tina Turner. If Charles Pierce's Bette Davis is his definitive disguise, Russell has the patent on Mae West, who encouraged him early in his career. The carefully tousle-haired, slightly chubby Russell even has a certain facial resemblance to West, and he brings to life her good-natured raunchiness. To his credit Russell doesn't fall back on her famous one-liners and comes up with his own. They're completely in her spirit, yet because they're his, they make the impression seem all the fresher.

Russell probably isn't the greatest female impersonator around, but he is a terrific personality with real presence, split-second timing and a zinging way with an ad lib. It's impossible to see where Russell leaves off and Robin begins, but, in any event, Russell projects both strength and vulnerability. Robin/Russell is clearly a genuine survivor, a true creature of show business, a wonderful entertainer. As Robin's zealous fan and gofer, Timothy Jenkins is a gloriously goofy and perfect foil for Russell.

Fragile types can seem insufferably self-indulgent, but McLaren is captivating with her poetic, ethereal flights of fancy, and Benner has written a fine scene in which Bob reminds Liza that the time has come for her to repay all the sustenance Robin has given her over the years. This scene typifies the maturity of Benner as well as his characters. "Too Outrageous" (MPAA-rated: R for adult themes) says you may not be able to have it all but you may be able to have some of it if you have the courage to be true to yourself. You can't be much more grown up than that. 'TOO OUTRAGEOUS'

A Spectrafilm release produced with the participation of Telefilm Canada, the Ontario Film Development Corp. and Dean Witter Reynolds (Canada). Producer Roy Krost. Writer-director Dick Benner. Camera Fred Guthe. Music Russ Little. Art director Andris Hausmanis. Costumes Aisa Alexander. Film editor George Appleby. With Craig Russell, Hollis McLaren, David McIlwraith, Ron White, Lynne Cormack, Michael J. Reynolds, Timothy Jenkins, Paul Eves, Frank Pellegrino, Jimmy James.

Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes.

MPAA rating: R (under 17, requires an accompanying parent or adult guardian.)

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