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IF THE PRODUCERS of this year's films dealing with homosexuality were playing "Monopoly," the game might go something like this:
First move: Victor/Victoria opens, successfully exploits reversed sex roles for a laugh, wins second prize in a beauty contest and ten dollars. Second move: Making Love presents homosexuals in every day situations, but remains cliche ridden; rests at Free Parking with no penalty, thanks to its honest, if flawed effort. Third move: Death-trap takes the luxury of using homosexuality as a heavy-handed plot manipulation, $75 dollar luxury tax levied. Final move: Partners opens. Send the producers to jail. Directly, And make them give me back my four dollars.
If this opening scenario lacks subtlety, then if mirrors Partners itself. The film presents Ryan O'Neal as Benson, a heterosexual homicide detective assigned to work with homosexual cop Fred Kerwin (John Hurt). Because of a series of homosexual murders, their chief insists that they "set up home" in the gay community.
Director James Burrows strives not only for laughs at the expense of the film's homosexuals, but also suspense. But why focus on the dreary-aspects of this "thriller"? The director himself apparently thinks tantalizing viewers is worth no more than the movie's last ten minutes, when the murderers are finally introduced. By then, you can't miss them: As Benson and Kerwin tool around town in their lavender VW convertible (homosexuals couldn't possibly drive a blue Chevy), an ominous-looking, long black Cadillac limousine appears.
The two detectives, with a combined 18 years on the force, almost miss the film's only real, if heavy-handed clue. While at a bar, a friend tells Kerwin, "You know, I think--is the killer." Kerwin looks surprised; the audience looks dumbfounded. But, sure enough, the guy in the bar proves right.
The mystery occupies little of this film's 90 minutes. Instead its makers subject the audience to poking fun at homosexuals clumsily designed to provoke raucous laughter. See if you can contain yourself. Benson asks his chief, "Why did you choose me?" The chief responds, "Because you're a good cop.. and 'cause of your cute ass." An aging homosexual tells Benson and Kerwin, "You have got to stick it through. Hang on tight, tight, tight," Benson tells his partner." "Those two faggots look alike. All faggots look alike." The two follow a suspect into a supermarket. While Benson watches diligently, Kerwin busies himself with detergents. "Are we on a case or what?!" Benson irritatedly asks. "Well," Kerwin responds plaintively, "I'm behind in the laundry."
KERWIN'S COMMENT underscores the main flaw in this problem-laden film. Partners invariably presents homosexuals as lustful, lascivious, whining fools. One middle-aged man, who, when he's not feeling Benson's thigh and cooing "fabulous" in the most stereotypical fashion, flirtatiously peers through ferns, squealing "Peekaboo!" or "hiii boys."
Although Kerwin ultimately saves Benson's life and solves the case, he nevertheless remains confined to similar stereotyping. He shakes so badly when he holds a gun that he not only drops his weapon but also falls out of a tree. We're invited to laugh along at a homosexual's ineptitude. At the beginning of the film, when he receives his assignment, Kerwin moans, "I've always been in the office.. but on the streets?!" A homosexual's place, of course, is in the home.
And sure enought, he soon parades around his and Benson's apartment, emptying ashtrays, making cheese souffles for lunch, bringing Benson breakfast in bed, and ironing Benson's underwear. Benson returns home from a tiring day at work; Kerwin sits him down and gives him a beer, promising. "I'll run your bath," Archie Bunker never had it so good.
O'Neal occasionally overcomes the film's limitations; his timing is good--though not his lines, which are penned by La Cage Aux Folles' Francis Veber. La Cage dealt with effeminate homosexual homebodies, too. But Veber fails to recapture any of that film's charm and wit. Most important, Veber presented the characters in La Cage affectionately. Partners is, if anything, mean-spirited. It doesn't introduce a single homosexual who isn't rendered weak-kneed or babbling by O'Neal's chest, eyes or "fabulous" thighs.
Homosexuals may have gained some ground with films like Making Love and Deathtrap, which proved that guys can make livings or commit murders just like heterosexuals. Partners takes back the ground gained, and then some.
At the end of the film, a wounded Kerwin decides to fight for his life. Perhaps he finds strength because he successfully solved a murder case. No, we are told, he was just lucky. He decides life is worth living because Benson promises him a "new apartment...with a custom-built kitchen." The producers jail this homosexual in the kitchen. Archie Bunker wouldn't be happier.
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