In and Out (1997)

May 11, 1997

There’s an emptiness lurking behind the smiles in director Frank Oz’s In and Out, a vacuousness that seems to pull the jokes (of which there are many) into a black hole of triviality. The actors are grinning, all right, but is there any emotions bracing their cheerfulness? Writer Paul Rudnick, who penned the so-so Addams Family Values and the jocular Aids comedy Jeffrey has an acid wit and a few brain cells, but lacks the character-building chops to really pull us in, and thus we’re left with characters flatter than a board and with just as much personality. Unfortunately, the answer to the above question is no, which is a shame. In and Out may be vageuly funny, but it sticks with you as long as Chinese take-out, which is to say, not long at all.

This effort was apparently inspired by Tom Hank’s Oscar acceptance speech for Philadelphia, where he acknowledged an old high school teacher (“And he’s gay!”). Problem was, the teacher in question hadn’t come out yet, but was outed by Hanks in front of a TV audience in the millions. Whoops. In and Out follows a similar story as Howard Brackett (Kevin Kline) is popped kicking and screaming out of the closet by hot shot actor Cameron Vale (Matt Dillon, here indistinguishable from a hung-over Brad Pitt). Vale wins the best Actor award for the hilarious movie-in-the-movie called To Serve and Protect, and thanks Howard, ending with the revelation, “And he’s gay!” Whoops.

This announcement sends Brackett’s small town of Greenleaf into a tizzy. Howard is to be married to his long-time girlfriend Emily (Joan Cusack) in a week, and the last thing they need is extra anxiety. After all, Emily lost tons of weight for the wedding, Howard’s parents (the venerable Debbie Reynolds and oatmeal man Wilford Brimley) are koo-koo for nuptials, and Howard himself is ready to cut wedding cake. After the televised outing, though, a media frenzy descends on Greenleaf to interrogate the hapless Howard - after all, if he taught the famous Cameron Vale, he must have a story to tell. Howard starts to doubt his sexuality. Kline and Tom Selleck (as TV reporter Peter Malloy) smooch it up. The audience gasps. Pratfalls occur.

To its credit, In and Out does attempt to not take itself too seriously, which is a good attribute for a comedy to have. Debbie Reynolds is always a joy to watch, and Kline is an adept physical comedian, but an episodic feeling to the gags dogs these strengths. There’s the flimsiest of gossamer stringing the jokes along, and without a strong narrative flow the humor doesn’t stick. All I can remember of the jokes is an old woman yelling, “My husband has three testicles!” - but that’s probably because I’m genital-obsessed.

When In and Out pokes fun at established archetypes (like Hollywood, the Oscars or fashion models), it’s sometimes funny, but the targets are obvious and satirize themselves better and more handily. When the film descends into maudlin sentiments, like the dreadful scene where Cameron Vale and Emily exchange Shakespearean sweet-nothings, it’s all we can do to avoid gagging on the cloying saccharine. Director Frank Oz is the king of the sappy comedy (Housesitter, What about Bob?), and he leaves pockets of cheese lying around everywhere. In and Out? It passes through you just like the title. Whoops.


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