1996, NR, 103 min. Directed by Alessandro De Gaetano. Starring Judy Tenuta, Paul Denniston, Jason Terisi, Jordan Roberts, Bill Ingraham.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Oct. 3, 1997
And here I thought everybody had forgotten about comedian Judy Tenuta. Boy, was I wrong. This alternately hilarious and annoying take on sexual stereotypes gives the brash, unrelentingly loud Tenuta (“Pigs!”) top billing (the press kit even goes so far as to label her “The Star”), although the film actually belongs to male lead Paul Denniston, a wonderfully nuanced comic actor from the Chicago area. In portraying the character of Matt Grabowski, Denniston uses the audience's preconceived notions about sexual politics to his advantage, both humorously and otherwise. Butch Camp follows the somewhat meek Grabowski as he struggles to assert himself in a world of crass, boisterous breeders. Grabowski is hooked on the notion of true love yet disdainful of the one night stand that his friend Danny (Ingraham) tries to set him up with. Grabowski, instead, gravitates toward more sensitive prospects, only to find, time and again, his tender romantic hopes dashed and bed mockingly devoid of true companionship. It's a tale anyone can relate to, queer, straight, or otherwise, but de Gaetano pulls a comic U-turn when he has the beleaguered Grabowski enlist in Butch Camp, a sort of neo-fascist assertiveness-training seminar by way of boot camp overseen by the dominatrix Samantha Rottweiler (Tenuta). As mentioned above, Tenuta's role is secondary: she performs offshoots of her stage act and berates her whimpering charges to go out there and kick some breeder butt (“Bash or be bashed!”). As a message of gay empowerment, this may not be the right tack to take in the real world, but then Butch Camp bears little resemblance to the world as we know it; it's an extreme comic fantasy riff on a genuinely emotional subject, but above all, this is comedy of the most bizarre, laugh-out-loud order. While de Gaetano's script sometimes wanders into the realm of the puerile, Denniston and a talented supporting cast make the most of some of the most inspired comic set-pieces I've seen in a long time. Far surpassing mainstream gay comedies like The Birdcage and Kiss Me Guido in terms of outright, silly fun, Butch Camp tackles a tough subject with wacky aplomb. Surprisingly touching at times and consistently funny, de Gaetano's film is a hopelessly romantic comedy no matter what your sexual proclivities may be.