De Niro plays a tough former New York City cop who suffers a stroke, then turns to a drag-queen neighbor named Rusty for singing lessons as part of his vocal recovery. The film itself is something like a recovery for Schumacher. After directing the last two ”Batman” flicks, he liked the idea of doing a smaller movie, and wrote this screenplay (his first since 1985’s ”St. Elmo’s Fire”) inspired by a friend’s successful post-stroke singing-as-speech-therapy.
He shot the film in 40 days for about $15 million, used a handheld camera in some scenes, and cast a colorful array of real-life drag queens who were plucked from downtown Manhattan clubs. ”I was thinking about getting a real drag queen to play Rusty,” Schumacher says. ”I met hundreds of female impersonators, trans-gender illusionists, drag queens, and divas. But I realized that the person was going to have to go toe-to-toe with Robert De Niro. I needed a real actor.”
Hoffman (”Boogie Nights”) – who last year appeared as Robin Williams’ roommate in ”Patch Adams” and made quite an impression with his masturbatory exploits in Todd Solondz’s dark critical darling ”Happiness” – was the real actor chosen as Rusty, a bawdy drag performer who’s saving money for a sex change. ”My biggest fear was that I wouldn’t be accepted by that community,” says Hoffman, who will also be seen in December’s ”The Talented Mr. Ripley,” ”but people seem pretty positive. No one has called me and said ‘You suck.”’ BUZZ FACTOR: 5
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