Desperate, but not a housewife

“Transamerica”The Weinstein CompanyWritten and Directed by Duncan TuckerStarring: Felicity Huffman, Kevin Zegers, Fionnula Flanagan, Elizabeth Pea, Graham Greene and Burt YoungRated R/103 minutesOpened Feb. 24, 2006Two-and-a-half out of four stars

If anyone is primed to steal Reese Witherspoon’s Oscar next month, it’s Felicity Huffman. One of the stars of everyone’s favorite sexy-suburban-satire, “Desperate Housewives,” Huffman goes completely against type in “Transamerica”-for which she won a Golden Globe-playing?well, a man. Not just any man, but a man who has been living as a woman and who is on the verge of sex-reassignment surgery.

In her former life, her name was Stanley. Now, she goes by Bree.

About a week before the surgery, Bree gets a mysterious phone call from a New York prison from a young man looking for his father, Stanley Osbourne. Yep, you guessed it: It’s the son Bree never knew she had. She’s gonna be a daddy!

While at first Bree denies any relation to the kid, Toby (Kevin Zegers), she’s forced into action when her therapist, Margaret (Elizabeth Pea, of “Batteries Not Included” fame), says she will not sign off on Bree’s pending surgery until she first makes peace with her long-lost son.

And so Bree hops a flight to New York, picks up Toby while posing as a Christian missionary and tries to hide her true identity?and her penis.

What “Transamerica” turns into is just another road movie, one with the kind of melodrama that would be right at home in a Lifetime movie of the week. However, in a real movie in which we’re asked to take the story seriously, it all comes across as hackneyed, manipulative and, in some moments, downright laughable.

When Bree goes home to reunite with her unaccepting parents, played by Burt Young and Fionnula Flanagan, the film goes from tolerably flawed to absolute insulting the audience’s intelligence. Flanagan’s horrifically over-the-top performance might be enough to send people to the exits. In a film that seems intent on finding the humanity of a societal outcast, is it that hard to surround her with characters that are real, three-dimensional human beings?

Writer/director Duncan Tucker cheats too often and takes too many short cuts, which is unfortunate considering the strength of Huffman’s performance. Her Golden Globe is well-deserved.

Unfortunately, this is one of those instances in which a strong central performance overshadows the weaknesses of the rest of the film. Kind of like Jim Carrey in “Man on the Moon.” Great acting, bad movie.

It’s the same story here. “Transamerica” might be worth seeing just for Huffman, but the fact is, it’s just not a very good film.