The controversial values of tolerance, understanding, and independent thinking get trumpeted yet again in The Dress Code, a sitcom Ma Vie En Rose that marks the less-than-auspicious narrative directorial debut of co-star Shirley MacLaine. A vehicle of sorts for Home Alone 3 star Alex D. Linz, The Dress Code casts Macaulay Culkin's heir apparent as a precocious 8-year-old with three overriding passions: spelling, religion, and cross-dressing. Needless to say, Linz's interests aren't shared by his sadistic classmateswho subject him to abuse that would horrify a veteran Marine hazing enthusiast, including dangling him out of a windowor his manly policeman father (Gary Sinise), whose face remains locked in a permanent scowl of disapproval. Thankfully, Linz has a pair of allies in fellow pariahs Stacey Halprin, his obese single mother, and Kiami Davael, a black classmate who shares his knack for gender-bending and self-determination. Screenwriter David Ciminello's tonally impaired screenplay hints at any number of complicated and troubling issues relating to faith, sexuality, body image, and gender. But rather than exploring any of them in detail, the filmmakers pin The Dress Code on a ridiculous competition that allows Linz to combine his disparate passions by competing in a high-stakes, Catholic Church-sponsored spelling bee while dressed in drag. Stepping behind the camera for the first time since the 1975 documentary The Other Half Of The Sky: A China Memoir, MacLaine coaxes effective performances from Linz and Halprin, whose doomed crush on ex-husband Sinise gives the film its only glimpse of genuine human emotion. Unfortunately, MacLaine apparently encouraged the rest of the cast to play to the rafters, particularly Joey Lauren Adams as Sinise's tough-talking fiancée, who seems to labor under the impression that she's playing Rizzo in a high-school production of Grease. MacLaine hijacks the last half-hour of the film as Linz's gruff, hard-as-nails grandmother and spelling-bee trainer, a puzzling role apparently designed to illustrate that prepubescent cross-dressers might have an easier time getting accepted if they learn how to fight and handle their scotch a little bit better.