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. "Connie and Carla"

I'd like to think I can put my usual high-brow critical standards aside and enjoy a funny new-age musical with a couple of gals who have spunk, the moves and a comfortable liking for each other that shows well on screen. I do. I was able to sit back and enjoy the situation-inspired laughs without getting sidetracked by writer Nia Vardalos' occasionally clumsy script turns, or its derivative nature ("Some Like It Hot", "Tootsie" and every previous male impersonator story according to some critics), or its performers' inclination to milk a gag and exaggerate a nuance. Maybe I'm enough of a sucker for the unending talent of Ms. Toni Collette or maybe it was my forgiving approach to the concept, but it provided me enough laughs and chuckles to call it entertainment.

Something worked. How else can I account for not being bored to a cinder by yet another love story go by Mr. Duchovny? I just can't seem to adapt to him as anything other than Mulder ("X-Files").

From childhood, the team known as Connie (Nia Vardalos of "Greek Wedding" fame) and Carla (Aussie Toni Collette - "Signs") have honed their teenage skills into a strong song and dance act. Their adult accomplishment has brought them to the stage of a tough Chicago dinner club where, one night, they witness a ruthless kingpin of the drug trade shoot a man that they know. Before his encounter with the gangster, the unscrupulous victim was kind enough to hide his illicit cache of white powdery substance in Connie's purse. Not realizing it, but knowing that their presence on the scene has put their lives in jeopardy, they flee.

Heading west, they wind up in Los Angeles, taking comfort in the safety of being in a city devoid of culture. Indeed, the mafioso sends a man to pursue them in all known cultural habitats of dinner theatre on the eastern and central regions of America for the women and the drugs they have in their possession. It would be a chase movie except for the fact that this pursuing character enjoys his research more than the search.

The quarry meanwhile, has changed not only their names, but their apparent genders. They find work performing in a gay bar as female impersonators, as complete a concealment as they could want. Gradually, however, the appreciation for their talents become great enough that they are successful in influencing their boss to introduce dining, to complete the act, and to bring themselves to a pinnacle of admiration in the gay and drag queen subculture of the melting pot city.

But not before Connie falls for Jeff (Duchovny) and tries to find a way to seduce the uptight straight guy who thinks she's a guy. What a dilemma. She can't come out to him lest she gives away her true identity and brings the bad guys down on her and Carla, and loses them their great job, to boot. But, wait. Their new found fame has put them on TV. Uh oh.

Okay, it's not high drama. But the dance routines are sincere, energetic and varied. It lacks the elan and intrigue level of the musical "Chicago" but goes on its own "poor girls make good" cheerfulness with a little danger in the wings to provide some spice. Direction is by Michael Lembeck ("The Santa Clause 2") with enough indecisiveness to make the narrative a bit choppy in between the stage acts. A proper cosmetic gloss is provided to the proceedings by cinematographer Richard Greatrix ("A Knight's Tale").

As for Writer's Guild member Vardalos, if she's trying to make a name for herself beyond the niche she created in the massive box office hit with which she's most notably identified, it's well that she slimmed down and shows us what she can do with a song. But, the widened-image part might be effected better if she refrains from borrowing so heavily for her next bit of theatricality.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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