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‘Transamerica’ transcendent 

Harrison Ford phones in ‘Firewall.’

HUFFMAN: Woman.
  • HUFFMAN: Woman.

I must admit that I’m a sucker for a road movie: “Rain Man,” “It Happened One Night,” “The Grapes of Wrath,” all those Bing-and-Bob movies. They’re all, when you think about it, pretty much the same film: two (or more) characters who don’t like each other very much take a long road trip. In the process, they learn to like each other, maybe even to love each other.

Call it “The Automotive Lifeboat” story — we’re stuck here together so we might as well be friends.

On a deeper level, however, the road in road movies almost always represents something a lot more powerful than asphalt and yellow lines. What that deeper thing is depends on the movie: life, death, the journey from sanity to insanity or vice versa.

A moving and powerful new entry to the road movie genre is “Transamerica.” At times laugh-out-loud funny, at others so cringe-inducingly awkward that you can’t help but look away, it makes for a great time at the movies — one that has something to say to every single person in the audience.

Here, Felicity Huffman (Lynette of ABC’s “Desperate Housewives”) plays the made-for-Oscar role of Bree Osborne, a male-to-female transsexual on the verge of the final big snip-and-tuck that will make her officially a her. With a psychologist dangling approval for the surgery over her head, however, Bree receives a phone call from New York. It seems that back when she was Stanley, Bree had a train-wreck of a sexual fling with a friend. Though Bree never knew it, that union produced a son, Toby (Kevin Zegers).

A teen-ager now, when Toby gets locked up for male prostitution, he calls on the father he knows by name only. While Bree is willing to blow it off and move on with her life, the psychologist says that she’s dodging her past, and refuses to sign off on the surgery unless she makes an effort to reach out to her offspring.

At that, Bree flies to New York and bails the kid out, telling him she works for a Christian charity. After buying an over-the-hill Chevy station wagon, they set out on a cross-country trip to take Toby back to the stepfather he ran away from in the first place. Along the way, they discover each other’s secrets, and gain each other’s friendship.

While this is a film with a lot of redemption, it’s also not big on punishing anybody for their “transgressions.” When the pair finds themselves down and out, Toby uses his hustling skills and a willing truck driver to get some money. Later, in a very funny scene, we find one of our intrepid heroes working in the porn business. In a Hollywood movie, that might call for a punitive fall from grace, but here it is just part of what has to be done. There’s a reality and purity in that, one that permeates what might have been a lackluster little movie with a lopsided sort of grace.

“Transamerica” is a movie about what is missing in our lives — friendship, happiness and love — and how you have to know yourself inside before you can be satisfied with the outside. A lovely little movie with a minimum of faults, it’s a powerhouse, and a sure crowd-pleaser for the open minded.



Breaking down ‘Wall’

Word is a new “Indiana Jones” movie is in the works. I, for one — and I say this with the utmost respect, being an admitted “Raiders of the Lost Ark” geek — hope the plot revolves around Indy passing on his whip and fedora to a heretofore unknown teen-age son and then promptly dying. If not, given how old Harrison Ford looks in his new movie “Firewall,” it’ll have to be called “Indiana Jones and the Fiber Supplement of Peril.”

OK, OK. Enough goofing on Pee-Paw … I mean, Harrison. In “Firewall,” Ford plays Jack Stanfield, the computer security expert with a large bank in Seattle. Married to a woman who was probably still nestled in somebody’s ovary when Ford made “American Graffiti” (Virginia Madsen), and father to two children (Charlie Chaplin fathered kids until he was 80, right?) Stanfield seems to be living the perfect life until euro-trash bank robbers with tiny machine guns come calling. Led by the suitably British Paul Bettany, they want Jack to hack into his own bank and remove $10,000 from the account of each of the bank’s 10,000 richest customers (why they didn’t just clean out the top 100 and save everybody some trouble is anybody’s guess). It’s either that, or Stanfield’s family will be killed.

Whereas most of us would go along with the plot, not wanting to risk the lives of kith and kin, Stanfield makes a series of predictable attempts to alert the cops and his co-workers to his predicament. Equally as predictable, the robbers give him another chance to cooperate instead of taking his kid down in the basement and tossing him under a running lawn mower. The tables are turned, however, when Stanfield escapes and hacks the hackers, stealing their ill-gotten gains and using the money to ransom his family.

Though Ford was the unstoppable force in his Indiana Jones years, he has recently settled into a gruff, emotionless delivery and a series of gruff, emotionless roles. Everything about him in “Firewall” says “Gotta pay for Calista’s rice cakes and laxatives somehow,” and he mails in one line after another with all the passion of a slightly perturbed squid. In the end, you know how it’s all going to turn out because it’s how all Harrison Ford’s recent films have turned out: After a fistfight which leaves him dazed and bloodied, Ford saves the day and offs the bad guy after a well-timed quip (“GET OFF MY PLANE!”). The only difference this time is it’s “old guy who knows computers” instead of “old guy who is the president.” Our advice, wait for the DVD, and then you can see the deleted scene of Ford telling those damned kids to get off his lawn.

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