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'To Wong Foo' Delivers Unexpected Message With Its Humor : In "To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar," three drag queens (Wesley Snipes, Patrick Swayze and John Leguizamo) driving cross country to a national pageant bring good manners, feathered boas and Johnny Mathis to a Southern crossroads town. (Rated PG-13) :

KIDS ON FILM

September 14, 1995|LYNN SMITH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Not perhaps the first movie you'd think of as family fare, "To Wong Foo" attracted a sizable group of children to a recent screening, most of whom expected some standard yuks over men dressing up in women's clothing.

Instead, they got something of an education about the distinction between transsexuals, transvestites and drag queens (the latter being "gay men with way too much fashion sense for one gender"), a detailed look at the trappings of gender disguise and a gentle message abouttolerance.

Some got the humor and the message. Others were shocked by the messengers.

"It was . . . just . . . like\o7 . . . whoa\f7 ," said Nicole New, 15, of Newport Beach, searching for words to describe it. "It was too different. I thought it was going to be really funny, making fun of it. But they were dead serious about it." Her friend Katie Boutillier, 15, of Cypress, agreed. "It's like, I mean, I don't have a problem with it, it's just that it's like, you know, it's weird."

The three men, Noxeema (Snipes), Vida (Swayze) and Chi Chi (Leguizamo) live totally in drag, devoting themselves to etiquette and appearance. Having shared top honors as New York's Drag Queen of the Year, Noxeema and Vida take on Chi Chi, a devastated loser in the contest, as a project while they drive cross country to Hollywood and the national contest.

In the movie, the drag queens are actually rather prim and sexually innocent compared with the men who are fooled by them. Vida decks a county sheriff who gets fresh, and Chi Chi narrowly escapes a gang rape in Snydersville, the town they take over while their rented Cadillac gets repaired.

Through a combination of kindness and surprisingly powerful punches, they manage to help a battered wife, an elderly mute woman and the members of the strawberry festival committee before leaving town.

Katie said the movie's theme was "that they should be treated like normal." But still, she said, "it's not like really that normal." She thought it was particularly weird to see Snipes, a macho hero of action movies, sashaying around in clingy dresses and applying lip liner. She said the actor did a good job as a drag queen--too good. "Now whenever I see him, I'm going to be thinking of this movie. Like, eeeeeuuuuwww."

But at least one boy thought the movie was funny in the way he expected it to be. Farrand Thompson, 11, of Huntington Beach said, "The girls were beating up all the guys that were supposed to be really tough in the movie. The guys that are girls," he corrected himself, laughing.

Lacey Horning, 11, of Corona del Mar, liked it for another reason. "It was different from most movies," she said. Besides, she said, she learned at least one new biological fact from the movie that she can talk about without giggling: Men have Adam's apples, and women don't.

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