short takes (1)

* Based on a German movie of 1933, the new comedy Victor/Victoria gives Julie Andrews the most -- well, complicated role of the season: a woman pretending to be a man impersonating a woman. Yes, it's a bit like a Chinese puzzle, and filmmaker Blake Edwards takes more than two hours to work out all the ridiculous ramifications.

The result has a PG rating, reflecting a few vulgarities and the homosexuality of a character played by Robert Preston. In other ways, however, ''Victor/Victoria'' is a surprisingly old-fashioned picture, full of familiar variations on time-tested gags. Edwards is in a nostalgic mood, and clearly relishes the not-quite-real atmosphere of his setting, Paris during the '30s.

Focusing on a woman who finds an unusual gimmick for success in show business , the film recalls a number of earlier entertainments, from ''Sylvia Scarlett'' -- where Katharine Hepburn wore the mannish exterior -- to ''Some Like It Hot.'' Lending some depth is its message of tolerance toward nonconformity, and its insistence that personal values and a sense of inner worth are the real measures of any human being. As for the comedy, some moments are downright inspired, as when two penniless heroes confront a grumpy waiter in a restaurant, or when sheer chaos is provoked by a rampaging cockroach. Other scenes drag on too long, or sink into dubious jokes, such as the irritating puns on ''gay Paree.''

Eventually the scrambled genders are set right again, and the confusion comes to a noisy but cheerful conclusion. In sum, ''Victor/Victoria'' is a mixed bag, not up to Edwards's best work with Peter Sellers, but leagues above his last picture, the clumsy ''S.O.B.'' It's good to hear he is now hitting the ''Pink Panther'' trail again, with a compilation film -- Sellers's best moments as Inspector Clouseau -- and a farce with a new actor in the leading role. It looks like the PP has become a permanent part of the cinema scene, and I say more power to him.

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