I think Robert De Niro keeps playing the same movie over and over. In Analyze This, he was a tough Italian guy with a problem (lost his will to kill) helped out by a marginal character (Billy Crystal's Jewish psychoanalyst) to become more empathetic and change his life. In Flawless, he's a tough Italian guy with a problem (lost his will to live) helped out by a marginal character (Phillip Seymour Hoffman's transvestite singer) to become more empathetic and change his life.
In this amusing dj vu version of Italian-guy-with-problems, De Niro plays Walt, a retired policeman decorated for bravery. Retired life is generally OK for Walt with one exception -- across the airshaft in his fleabag apartment building, a passel of transvestites keep practicing their nightclub revue song-and-dance routines. They make Walt crazy, Walt makes them crazy, everyone screams insults in soprano or tenor.
However, when Walt suffers a paralyzing stroke attempting to stop a gang of thugs in his building, he is forced to ask the lead singer Rusty, played by Hoffman, to give him singing lessons to help him regain his speech.
Flawless has several annoying flaws. The pacing in the first third is uneven and drags (no pun intended), although it picks up toward the middle and end. Director and writer Joel Schumacher (8MM and a couple of Batman films) is overly fascinated with the lives of his transvestite characters and so lingers too long on several amusing but utterly gratuitous scenes of supposed New York gay life -- rival gangs of transvestites, set-to's with gay Republicans, butch lesbians as bouncers. Oh, there's also a whore-with-a-heart-of-gold, egads.
Despite these problems, however, Flawless is uplifting and funny, largely because of two really great performances by Hoffman and DeNiro. The chemistry between these two men is a pleasure to behold. Hoffman does a gorgeous job as both a woman and a man, the former aggressive and over the top, the latter subdued and vulnerable. DeNiro manages to convey the desolation of a proud, self-sufficient man felled by a stroke through the confident physical acting that is his trademark.
The film is worth a matinee just for those guys alone. In the meantime, stay tuned for the next Italian-guy-meets-his-measure matchup. I wonder who his nemesis will be ...