The Birdcage (Mike Nichols)

Rating: **1/2 (out of ****)

Yeah, I laughed -- more than I expected to, really, given that this is a) a remake of b) a French farce (my least favorite cinematic genre) featuring c) patronizing stereotypes and d) plenty of dick jokes. But even though I've somehow managed to avoid seeing any previous incarnation of La cage aux folles, it still seemed a thoroughly unnecessary film, trapped in some bizarre time warp in which nothing has changed since 1978 (this despite numerous topical references designed to update the story for the mid-90's). Robin Williams (admirably restrained, apart from the dance medley you saw in the commercials) and Nathan Lane are in fine form, but their relationship is so completely devoid of passion that The Birdcage essentially becomes the farcical flipside of Philadelphia -- a safe, wholesome film featuring gay characters that middle America can comfortably embrace (since they scarcely touch each other, and conform to accepted -- and ludicrous -- notions of who gays are ). One scene involving the signing of a palimony agreement is supposed to convey the love Armand and Albert feel for one another: they call themselves "partners" and hold hands while staring into the distance. Give me a break. Things pick up once the carefully constructed plot kicks into overdrive, and both Gene Hackman and Hank Azaria show signs of comic genius -- Hackman in a hilariously tedious paean to the American countryside that sounds as if it's been composed by a computer program generating random phrases, and Azaria in every move he makes and word he utters (he steals the film, and is so damn funny that I frankly couldn't care less if his role is demeaning). Whether or not you can relax and enjoy The Birdcage may depend upon how angry the cinematic representation of homosexuals has been making you lately. I've been moderately angry, and I moderately enjoyed the movie.