Partners (1982)

JAMES BURROWS

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB 

USA, 1982, Screenplay by Cinematography by Produced by Music by Production Design by Costume Design by Film Editing by , .  Podcast:  Bad Gay Movies.  

The murder of a male model in San Francisco’s gay community requires an undercover operation to find his killer thanks to the victim’s ties to the city’s prominent citizens.  Police chief asks hunky ladies man Ryan O’Neal to pose as a couple with shy, gay office clerk John Hurt in order to infiltrate the city’s all-male society and get information from friends and neighbours of the deceased.  Throwing on their best tight pink clothing and jumping into a precinct-provided lavender car, the two embark on the road to solving the mystery while developing an unexpected marital vibe while living together, O’Neal’s eye starts to wonder to all the ladies around him while Hurt does all the cooking and complains that he’s not appreciated.  Directed by sitcom television legend James Burrows (here making his only feature film) and written by French farce master Francis Veber (La Cage Aux Folles, The Dinner Game), this one’s plot is a barely justified excuse for the comedic situations, these guys do little police work but the opportunities to get O’Neal into a series of increasingly ridiculous outfits are exploited to their fullest.  It would be so much more satisfying if the film worked as both comedy and police thriller, the mystery itself isn’t interesting and we don’t get to know the victim as a person, but even if you were to forgive this or its dated, jokey attitude towards gay life (which is, admittedly, a lot less insulting than was usually being presented in eighties comedies), it’s impossible to forgive this film for not being in the least bit funny.  O’Neal’s lack of comic timing was actually what made him great in What’s Up Doc, here it makes all the film’s jokes land with a dull thud, while Hurt has the perfect sad-sack facial expressions to create a rich character dealing with his own homophobia, but Veber’s script is far more interested in poking holes into his co-star’s trumped up masculinity.  It’s notable that the film tries to give them both stakes (one is being challenged about his sexually, the other about his comfort as a desk clerk), but if it were made today it would (hopefully) place more emphasis on Hurt’s being a member of the police force who has taken an invisible job and maybe wants to prove himself worthy of more.  Thank God Burrows is grown-up enough to avoid cheap shots and not give us the tacky homophobia we see in Police Academy, but it’s shocking how little humour he gets out of a set-up that is, quite frankly, the perfect sitcom plot.

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