“Some Like It Schlock” might be a better title for this cross-dressing comedy from Nia Vardalos, who tries to apply her “Greek Wedding” mixture of farce and sloppy sentiment to a tale of a would-be female singing duo in Chicago who take refuge from a murderous gangster by going to L.A. and posing (and gaining great popularity) as warbling drag queens. “Connie and Carla” was obviously inspired by the 1959 Billy Wilder classic “Some Like It Hot,” in which a couple of male Chicago musicians had to flee a depression-era hoodlum and donned dresses to join an all-girl band in Florida. But that’s the only inspiration the movie possesses. Though its “Victor/Victoria” spin on the material isn’t a bad idea in itself, Vardalos’ heavy-handed comic approach, intermingled with massive doses of PC schmaltz and sappy romantic fantasy (as well as a constant stream of excerpts from Broadway show tunes), gives the picture a terminal case of the cutes. And though the title suggests that Vardalos’ Connie and Collette’s Carla will enjoy roughly equal status in the story, the writer and director Michael Lembeck {”The Santa Clause 2”) put so much emphasis on the former that the latter recedes pretty much into the background, a chirpy Ethel to Vardalos’ extravagant Lucy. That seems especially unfortunate in view of the fact that Collette is easily the more engaging of the two actresses. But, after all, Vardalos is one of the executive producers, too.

The plot tweaks the Wilder template in any number of unfortunate ways. Connie and Carla are mediocre, over-the-hill singers–conjoined wannabes since their school days–trying to awaken bored customers in an O’Hare Airport lounge. After they witness the killing of their boss by a mobster named Rudy (Robert John Burke) and his dim-bulb enforcer Tibor (Boris McGiver), they abandon their working-class boyfriends (Nick Sandow and Dash Mihok) for the presumed safety of California. Learning that La-la-land offers no opportunities for dinner-theatre performers, they hit upon the strategy of disguising themselves as gay guys who perform as divas at a local drag club, and become instant sensations among the clientele by actually singing rather than lip-syncing. They also bond with their gay neighbors, most notably Robert (Stephen Spinella) and Lee (Alec Mapa), both extravagant queens. That leads to complications when Jeff (David Duchovny), Robert’s good-natured straight sibling who hasn’t seen his brother in years, shows up to rebuild the family relationship before his upcoming wedding. Connie falls for Jeff, which of course creates difficulties since he thinks she’s a fella (though he feels unaccountably attracted to him/her). And trouble shows up in the form of Rudy and Tibor, who–in one of the script’s most crudely contrived coincidences–hire the girls’ old boyfriends to find them, which of course the lunkheads do. The frantic finale–equal parts music, manic action, revelations and happy endings–includes a guest appearance by Debbie Reynolds, one of the reigning icons of the gay community, at the club the girls have transformed into L.A.’s first dinner theatre. Imbedded in all these farcical goings-on is a heavy-handed message of tolerance, centered on the still-tense connection between Robert and Jeff and the reluctance of the latter to reveal his brother’s wardrobe proclivities to his fiancée (with rather good reason, as the lady’s brief appearance toward the close demonstrates).

The problems with “Connie and Carla” are legion, ranging from Lembeck’s sledgehammer direction to Vardalos’ diva-like hogging of the spotlight and puppy-dog desire to please, an excess of Broadway-based production numbers, a depiction of the gay scene rife with stereotyping, and a turn from Reynolds that’s more like a bid for canonization. And, as in “Victor/Victoria,” the female-pretending-to-be-female impersonator is so unconvincing that one must assume that everyone with eye- and earshot must be visually impaired. There are modest compensations, of course. Collette, though pressed to be overly manic, still provides a modicum of fun, and Duchovny once again exhibits a low-key hangdog charm that serves him well even through the script’s most tortured permutations. There’s also a funny recurrent bit involving Tibor’s attempt to track down the duo by visiting dinner theatre after dinner theatre, each of which is inevitably playing “Mame” to audiences of advanced age. But otherwise, with its glaring cinematography by Richard Greatrex and maddeningly bouncy score by Randy Edelman, the picture–like its writer-star–is entirely too strident in the pursuit of easy laughs and fuzzy emotions.

The result is a picture that will appeal to the crowd that patronizes the very dinner theatres the script turns into jokes, but not many others.