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Connie And Carla

Given her outsized personality and the canned quips she always has ready, My Big Fat Greek Wedding's Nia Vardalos will inevitably secure a regular seat on Hollywood Squares sooner or later. It's just a question of where: In the center square, requiring a long, Whoopi Goldberg-style run of failing upward? The corners, where recognizable minor celebrities hold court with Kermit The Frog and Bruce Vilanch? Or perhaps the dreaded middle-sides, which only come into play when contestants are thwarted in their early bids for tic-tac-toe?

Though her comedic sensibility really belongs on television—the failure of the Big Fat TV spin-off notwithstanding—Vardalos deserves some credit for writing her own ticket. Her script for Connie And Carla may seem like the result of a pitch meeting gone horribly awry (Thelma & Louise meets Victor/Victoria meets Will & Grace meets New Broadway!), but Vardalos comes about her broad populism honestly, and at least she'll have the chance to pass or fail on her terms. Connie And Carla doesn't contain a single fresh moment, but considering its direct appeal to the dinner-theater set, accessibility probably holds more currency than originality anyway.

Skipping from Oklahoma! to Jesus Christ Superstar to Fiddler On The Roof to Cats in one cheesy catchall medley, Vardalos and her game co-star Toni Collette play lounge singers who perform to apathetic stragglers at Chicago's O'Hare Airport. When some half-assed plotting about a busted cocaine deal has them running from the mob, Vardalos and Collette pack their wood-paneled station wagon and hide out in West Hollywood, where show tunes are in short supply. After accidentally stumbling into a local gay bar, they catch wind of auditions for its nightly drag-queen show, which inspires them to slap on some pancake Divine makeup and fake their way into the headlining spot. As a Russian mobster tracks them down one dinner theater at a time, the duo's rising popularity threatens to blow their cover, as does Vardalos' romantic interest in David Duchovny, the bartender's estranged brother.

The wacky, high-pitched slapstick between Vardalos and Collette owes something to Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance, but their frenetic energy can't create laughs out of thin air. If Some Like It Hot begat Tootsie begat Mrs. Doubtfire, then Vardalos is basically draping the movie in fourth-hand rags, recycling jokes that have been worn down to tatters. Though Vardalos issues a plea for tolerance on top of her positive-body-image message, Connie And Carla seems as much an imposter in the drag-queen world as its heroines; it fronts the sort of safely asexual gay characters found on network TV. Expect another CBS spin-off soon.

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