Picks and Pans Review: In and Out

updated 09/22/1997 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/22/1997 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Kevin Kline, Tom Selleck

On Oscar night a Brad Pitt-ish young star (Matt Dillon) is up for Best Actor for his performance as a gay soldier in a drama called To Serve and Protect. Beating out not only Paul Newman but Steven Seagal, he thanks his gay high school drama coach (Kline), who is watching back home in Greenleaf, Ind. You recognize the inspiration for this bright comedy's setup: Tom Hanks's acceptance speech for Philadelphia in 1994, when he thanked his gay high school teacher Rawley Farnsworth. The difference is, Kline is still deep in the closet and about to lock the door. He's getting married in three days.

Scriptwriter Paul Rudnick (Jeffrey, Addams Family Values) is close to unbeatable when it comes to sharp topical humor. He makes light mockery of homophobia (a reporter asks, "Should homosexuals be allowed to handle fresh produce?"), gay culture (Kline's stag party ends with a fight over Yentl) and Hollywood films about gays (there's a funny movie-within-a-movie clip of To Serve and Protect). Rudnick is not so great at fleshing out his characters. Selleck's role, a gay TV correspondent, barely exists. Selleck isn't a strong enough actor to work without a solid script.

Kline is the opposite. With his charm and poise, he's like someone in a musical comedy, happily expecting his cue from the orchestra. He can make a limp wrist into elegant pantomime. There's also Debbie Reynolds as his sweet, occasionally tart mother, Bob Newhart as his conservative principal and Joan Cusack, howling with rage as the woman who finally understands the source of her fiancé's Streisand fixation. Cusack almost steals the movie, but what else is new? (PG-13)

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