THE ORIGINAL La Cage Aux Folles was a harmless, if subtly naughty delight. In fact, it could have made an interesting TV sit-com: the wacky misadventures of a loving and long-suffering nightclub owner and his zany wife, the star of the club's act. The twist, of course, was that husband and wife were both male, the wife a flamboyant transvestite. Still, Edouard Molinaro directed the film with a light touch, making Renato and Albin just another daffy couple who had a way of getting themselves into embarrassing situations. La Cage Aux Folles caricatured most straights as such mean-spirited tight-assed hypocrites that heterosexual audiences could laugh without feeling challenged--which, in one respect, was a cop-out on Molinaro's part. While the script seemed to aspire to incisive social satire, Molinaro made the film into a toothless, albeit funny, comedy of manners.
La Cage Aux Folles II, even fluffier than its predecessor, is a tiresome travesty of a film. At the outset, it resembles the original movie: Ennio Morricone's cheerily mellow Muzak score plays as Renato argues with Albin over one of his ("her") musical numbers. Once again, Michel Serrault as Albin, epitomizes all those ancient stereotypes about feminine flightiness and vanity--and once again, he walks the slender line between racy humor and misogyny. Ugo Tognazzi--with the wise restraint he displayed in the first film--underplays Renato, the patient husband who holds on to just a little bit of his machismo. This first scene, while breezy and amusing, lacks energy--a sad omen of feeble scenes to come.
Our fiesty couple is soon thrust into the world of international espionage--naturally through the old device of being caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. The good-guy secret agents (led by the poker-faced Marcel Bozzuffi) promise to protect Renato and Albin from the bad-guy agents so long as they help them obtain some mysterious microfilm. Molinaro treats us to more than 90 minutes of car chases, dart guns, and hair-breadth close calls, using nearly every cliche of every spy-adventure film ever made--not to create clever satiric effect, but to provide hoakey chills and thrills. As the corpses pile up, La Cage II becomes less exciting than almost surrealistically weird: watching Tognazzi and Serrault dodge bullets and burly hitmen is like seeing Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball in a bad James Bond movie.
The film is only truly funny when it ridicules the macho man mentality. Hiding from the law, Albin must give up women's clothes and behave like "a real man." It's startling to see Serrault in overalls, sticking out his jaw, adopting a simian gait and snarling "Faggot!" at a rude driver. Later, when the aggressively hetero band of agents wants to guard the couple while remaining inconspicuous, they don dresses and uni-sex apparel. Renato teaching the tough guys how to walk effeminately creates a wonderful parallel to the scene in the first La Cage in which he tried to show Albin how to "eat with masculinity."
UNFORTUNATELY, the bright moments are too few to save La Cage II from dreary silliness. Left over from the original are Michel Galabru, blustering his way through another performance as Cherrier--the government's deputy of morality who happens to be the father-in-law of Renato's son--and Benny Luke, in the slightly offensive role of Jacob, the Black "maid" who struts around in glittery hot pants and provides the film with "racial humor." Neither actor is even mildly interesting this time around.
Perhaps, that vaguely kinky thrill is gone. Without the shock of first acquaintance, Renato and Albin seem shallow and Molinaro's placing them in a worn-out stock situation makes them all the more dull. Nevertheless, Molinaro and United Artists seem determined to cash in on the success of the original (the highest grossing foreign film ever released in the U.S.A.) and are supposedly contemplating a La Cage Aux Folles III, Yes, gay couples can behave as ridiculously as straight couples, but how much longer do they expect us to laugh about it?