Natasha Lyonne made quite a splash at the 1998 Florida Film Festival by essaying a wise-beyond-her-years lead performance in the winning comedy Slums of Beverly Hills. At the time I worried that the fame for which she appeared destined would exert undue pressure to smooth out the ethnicity of her appeal -- to get that nosed fixed, cover up those freckles and straighten that hair.
Two years later (and after keeping her persona intact for saving-grace cameos in the otherwise worthless "American Pie" and "Detroit Rock City"), Lyonne walks onto the screen in "But I'm a Cheerleader" as an all-American blonde with a milky complexion. Thank God it's only for satirical purposes: She's playing Megan, a 17-year-old whose apple-pie exterior is at odds with her underlying impulses. Noticing their daughter's telltale signs of same-sex longing (lingerie photos in her school locker, Melissa Etheridge posters at home, vegetarianism), Megan's parents put her in the care of True Directions, a facility whose raison d'être is "curing" gay teens of their unwholesome tendencies.
Such lunkheaded initiatives are indeed undertaken in the real world, so "Cheerleader" should be a riotous send-up of 12-step hysteria. There's only one problem: It's not funny. The movie's jokes are so broad that they barely qualify as jokes at all, and its garishly colored sets and costumes establish a Crayola milieu that's too cartoonish by half. Director Babitt (on whose original story Brian Wayne Peterson's script is based) doesn't concern himself with niggling details like plausibility and continuity; he's fallen for the misconception that comedy requires less internal logic than drama, not more.
If drunken, easily amused drag queens were to cobble a film project together at 4 a.m., this is what the result might be. Lyonne tries not to look mortified, and largely succeeds. Why not? At least she's in disguise.
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