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On the Road ... Again

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Men dressing as women has been comic gold in frat houses and the drag queen heeelarity of Milton Berle. But women in drag as women, now that's news.

Forging a path for women dressing as men dressing as women is the bewitching thespian feat of "Desperate Housewives" star Felicity Huffman in Transamerica. Huffman plays a pre-op transsexual, Bree Osbourne, whose castrating reckoning day is fast approaching.

Dolled up in the pink ultra-feminine drag of Mary Kay saleswomen and mothers-of-the-bride, Huffman precisely parrots the awkwardly over-the-top gestures of a man playing a woman: the halting geisha walk, the swoony hand gestures, the church lady voice and manner. But Huffman's observant performance seems lost within director/screenwriter Duncan Tucker's crass storyline, which makes Bree the butt of endless jokes as her ladylike ways are continually threatened with exposure in the Some Like It Hot tradition.

In a painfully manufactured plot twist, Bree's gender transformation surgery is jeopardized by the news that she fathered a son years ago when she was "Stanley." Bree's therapist insists she unite with her long-lost child if she wants her surgery, and so Bree bails her male hustler son, Toby (Kevin Zegers), out of jail and journeys with him back to Los Angeles for her surgery, resisting all the way the urge to spill the "who's your daddy?" beans.

In the conventional road movie formula, two opposites in tight quarters meet a series of kooks along the way, get on each other nerves, and inevitably grow to appreciate each other's quirks. But viewers may have a hard time warming up to these two singularly selfish grumps, as well as director Tucker's sitcom sensibility.

Along with Neil Jordan's forthcoming feel-good transvestite dramedy Breakfast on Pluto and the squeaky-clean gay coming-of-age comedy Dorian Blues, Transamerica proves that even plot lines involving cross-dressing, trannies and sex for money can be pushed through the same comedic fluff-o-matic to come out inconsequential and trite on the other side. Opening date postponed. HHIII

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