BUT I’M A CHEERLEADER

Crushingly obvious and abysmally unfunny, Jamie Babbit’s debut feature is a brightly-colored but perfectly awful would-be satire on attempts to “deprogram” homosexuals. The protagonist is dim-bulb highschooler Megan (Natasha Lyonne), who’s suspected of lesbian tendencies and sent off to the “True Directions” camp by her parents; there she goes through the various stupid steps of a program devised by fanatical commandant Mary Brown (Cathy Moriarty), while gradually developing a secret relationship with roommate Graham (Clea DuVall). Will the process take, or will the two girls eventually link up in amorous bliss? What do you think?

There’s probably a good film to be made about these kinds of deprogramming ventures, but “But I’m a Cheerleader” certainly isn’t it. The writing is incessantly puerile, abounding in the crudest stereoptypes, the direction is sledge-hammer heavy, and the acting is simply wretched. Lyonne couldn’t make the cut on “Melrose Place,” let alone carry a film, and DuVall merely mopes about emptily; the other members of the TD class are embarrassingly amateurish. Even worse, though, are the veterans, who should really know better. Moriarty snarls and twitches like a demented drill sergeant, and Ru Paul is smarmily obvious as her lieutenant. As Megan’s dad, Bud Cort has all the subtlety of a Michael J. Pollard lookalike, while Richard Moll engages in some crude shtick as the gruff half of a neighboring gay couple. The picture looks terrible, too: it’s said to be “stylish,” which in this genre means that all the sets and costumes are in glaring, neon colors that irritate the eye. And to make it offensive aurally as well as visually, there’s a hideously perky music score that periodically intrudes.

It’s hard to imagine that “But I’m a Cheerleader” could attract an audience outside of the most undemanding gay-and-lesbian film festivals. It only runs a bit over eighty minutes, but watching it feels like sitting through ten showings of “Titanic” stacked end-to-end.