A workable if perfunctory high-concept hook -- "To Be or Not to Be" meets "Some Like It Hot" as Allied spies in drag infiltrate WWII Nazi intelligence -- falls entirely flat in the misfire comedy "All the Queen's Men." Not bad enough to qualify as a memorable dud, multinational production nonetheless misses mark on every level.

A workable if perfunctory high-concept hook — “To Be or Not to Be” meets “Some Like It Hot” as Allied spies in drag infiltrate WWII Nazi intelligence — falls entirely flat in the misfire comedy “All the Queen’s Men.” Not bad enough to qualify as a memorable dud, multinational production nonetheless misses mark on every level. Cast is given no chance to shine, while plausibility, humor, action and atmosphere are all poorly executed and/or ill-matched. Topliners Matt LeBlanc and Eddie Izzard will lend feature some modest viability in U.S. and U.K. But primary destination looks to be the small screen — where “Queen’s” widescreen format will only prove another unfortunate miscalculation.

Grim exertion-to-laughter quotient is signaled straight off as LeBlanc’s Yank OSS officer Stephen O’Roarke is seen fleeing an Axis stronghold in 1944 Perugia, Italy, clad in the drastically oversized duds he’s just swiped — along with a precious Enigma typewriter — from a now-unconscious Nazi officer.

Slapstick escape is noisy but uninspired, the trip ending badly when his stolen tank is stopped by Brit soldiers. Their frightfully stiff-upper-lippy commander (a deft turn by Edward Fox) takes umbrage at O’Rourke’s brash braggadocio, seizing the Enigma machine — whose analysis would presumably enable Allies to crack the all-important Axis communication code — and promptly destroying it as contraband. For good measure, the punch-swinging ‘murrican is then thrown into the brig.

He’s soon sprung, however, and given a dangerous new mission: Finding yet another Enigma machine to haul back across enemy lines. He then meets the motley crew of fellow spies he’ll have to take along — decryption specialist Johnno (David Birkin), stodgy Brit vet Archie (James Cosmo) and cabaret drag star Tony (Izzard), whose intro scene doing Dietrich at a gay club reps pic’s modest comic peak.

Worse still: Since they’re ordered to locate and infiltrate a top secret Enigma assembly plant peopled by all female workers, this quartet must masquerade as women. Rote guys-learn-to-be-girls “training montage” follows, from which none of the men emerges looking or acting like anything but sheepish Halloween cross-dressers.

After various labored and unlikely misadventures making their way through Germany to Berlin, the men find their designated contact, glam librarian Romy (Nicolette Krebitz) and manage to find the Enigma machine factory. With Tony keeping nearby troops distracted, the other three get the goods, rescue an imperiled Romy, then somehow get a hijacked plane off the ground despite umpteen machine-gunning Nazis.

Script principally credited to David Schneider saves its worst idea for the end, as Fox returns to ironically reveal the whole mission was intended to fail. At this point principal characters aren’t alone in wondering “All this pain … for nothing?”

Though scenario too often substitutes bluster for wit, problem here is mostly executional. An Austrian commercial/musicvid vet whose three prior features were much more serious in tone (angsty youth pic “Tempo,” tragi-historical fictioner “The Inheritors,” German horror meller “Anatomy”), helmer Stefan Ruzowitzky shows little instinct for comedy, at least not in English.

Pic’s jittery approach torpedoes any ensemble performance rhythm while rendering several overblown action set pieces inchoate. Latter scenes also feature fairly brutal violence that further douses all intended caper merriment.

Resultant, jumbled feel is likewise at odds with the production’s slick physical attributes, which are quite handsome, spacious and period-detail attentive.

Playing a callow fish out of familiar waters, “Friends” sitcom star LeBlanc lacks needed charm in a role that requires macho self-mockery a la George Clooney or (dare we say it) Cary Grant. In or out of drag, he doesn’t appear to be having fun; nor does his romance with sleek but too-contemporary Krebitz (“Bandits”) register a pulse.

Ace standup comic and actor Izzard and Campbell are better cast yet barely exploited. When you can’t eke a chuckle or two from reliably over-the-top Udo Kier as a Nazi general with a boudoir masochistic streak, you know something has gone kaput.

All the Queen's Men

U.S.-Austria-Germany-Hungary

Production

An Atlantic Streamline presentation in association with Dor Film, Phoenix Film, B.A. Film. Produced by Marco Weber, Gabrielle Kelly, Zachary Feuer, Danny Krausz. Executive producers, Phil Alden Robinson, Rainer Virnich. Co-producer, Georgy Marosi. Directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky. Screenplay by David Schneider with Jeff Stockwell, based on a story by Digby Wolfe, Joseph Manduke, June Roberts.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Wedigo Von Schultzendorff; editors, Nick Moore, Andrea Schumacher, Britta Nahler; music, Joern-uwe Fahrenkrog-Petersen; production designer, Frank Bollinger; art director, Florian Lehner; set decorators, Tamas Breier, Gabor Szabo, Zoltan Szabo; costume designer, Nicole Fischnaller; supervising sound editor, Andreas Biegler; VFX supervisor, Henning Radlein; line producer, Miggel Schwickerath; assistant director, Anton M. Aigner; casting, Celestia Fox, April Webster, Barbara Vogel. Reviewed at Mill Valley Film Festival, Oct. 14, 2001. Running time: 105 MIN.

With

Steven O'Rourke - Matt LeBlanc
Tony Parker - Eddie Izzard
Archie - James Cosmo
Romy - Nicolette Krebitz
Gen. Landsdorf - Udo Kier
Johnno - David Birkin
Franz - Oliver Korittke
Liebl - Karl Markovics
Col. Aiken - Edward Fox
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