Picks and Pans Review: Second Serve
updated 05/12/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT
•originally published 05/12/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT
Vanessa Redgrave can play any part, and here's the proof: She's a woman cast as a man who becomes a woman (who still looks like a man). She's a tennis pro, an eye surgeon and a father. She is utterly transfixing as Dr. Renee Richards, né Richard Raskind in real life (who, for legal reasons, was renamed Richard Radley in the movie), one of the world's most famous transsexuals. From the first minutes, when you see she-as-he on the tennis court, you can't take your eyes off Redgrave—not just because you're bound to be amazed at how she looks in X chromosomes, but also because she demands that kind of attention. Redgrave kidnaps cameras. Every scene gives her enormous drama: Richard telling his cold, psychiatrist mother, Louise Fletcher, that he's a woman inside; Richard's best friend, seeing him in drag and calling him a joke and a fool; Richard chickening out of his first chance at a sex-change operation; Richard having the operation and waking up as Renee in tremendous pain; Renee having her first love affair as a woman. Second Serve starts with two great assets: Redgrave and the restrained, graceful direction. But this is a bank account that just won't balance. There's a penny missing here, a dollar missing there. Richard marries a model, played by Kerrie (Kung Fu: The Movie) Keane, has a son with her and divorces—all in about five minutes. There's no attempt to let you see what kind of marriage they had and what Richard was trying to get from it. There are too many crucial omissions like that. Some moments don't ring true: Richard's girlfriend, Alice (Dream West) Krige, doesn't shudder or so much as pause when she discovers that her boyfriend wears nicer dresses than she does. Worst of all, Second Serve doesn't really try to ask why Richard wants to be Renee. The script settles for an easy, incomplete answer, showing you Richard the child dressed up in girl's clothes while his strong mom laughs. Maybe the producers tried to do too much in two hours. Maybe Renee Richards (on whose 1983 book the movie is based) already excised too much conflict and confusion out of her memory. Still, Second Serve is a tremendous curiosity item. You have to see a movie with a credit that reads, "Miss Redgrave's transformation designed by Peter Owen." The supporting cast—Krige, Fletcher, William Russ as Richard's best friend Josh, Richard (The Executioner's Song) Venture as Richard's dad, Martin Balsam as his shrink and Alan Feinstein as Renee's hunk boyfriend—add quality to the production. Redgrave gets an automatic A (even if she kept her English accent when she lowered her voice so she sounds like John Lennon). But Second Serve has too many flaws to live up to her standards.