Judge Brett Cullum finds himself offended by a pink Volkswagen, and a buddy cop movie with a horrible butt for jokes.
Benson is a cop who wants to clean up the streets…his partner just wants to redecorate.
Partners is one of the oddest comedies ever produced, because it's basically William Friedkin's Cruising turned in to a sitcom. The big problem is most people will find it more offensive than funny with its dated views and limp wristed attempts at pink humor. A killer is on the loose, and a macho cop has to go undercover in the gay community to find the murderer. The big switch? They get an effeminate man from the records department to pose as his male partner. So not only does the tough hetero cop have to play gay for the case, but he gets a bona fide homosexual coworker he has to live and sleuth with.
Facts of the Case
Sergeant Benson (Ryan O'Neal) is a ladies man, and has recently been assigned to catch a serial killer that has eluded the police from the start. The catch is the murders are taking place in the gay community, so he will have to pose as "one of them" to get people to talk. To help him out the department gives him a gay partner named Kerwin (John Hurt) who previously had a simple desk job. The idea is the two men can move through the gay crowds, and find the killer quicker. One will provide the police know-how, and the other will clue him in on queer culture. It's your typical "fish out of water" scenario combined with The Odd Couple for good measure.
I was truly shocked when Partners showed up as a new release, because it seemed like a potentially offensive movie with its casual and frequent usage of "fag" jokes. That phrase is used relentlessly, and poor William Hurt gets called the "F" word constantly throughout the story. But back in 1982 the culture wasn't too concerned about being politically correct or sensitive to what might be inappropriate. The only way to approach Partners is to see it as a piece of history, or consider it a time capsule that proves how far we've come in the perception of the gay community. Prime examples of the short-sighted views: all the gay men wear a lot of pink, O'Neal is given a pink Volswagen to help him fit in, the older men are uniformly lecherous, the gay apartment they hide out in is crammed full of lacey doilies coupled with antiques, and the outfits the cops wear undercover are campy including lots of headbands and impossibly short shorts. The gay men lisp, pout, preen, flail their wrists, and scream like girls.
What's even more insulting than the broad stereotypical treatment of gay guys, the movie itself isn't very good. As a comedy it falls flat with one joke that runs on far too long. Ryan O'Neal's character freaks out because he has to dress differently and let guys lust after him, and that's supposed to be funny over and over. He keeps remarking that "Now I know what women must feel like," but this never changes his attitudes. He hops in bed with any available female while undercover, and you feel concern for his poor girlfriend who has no idea. William Hurt just sulks through the film, and I guess we're also supposed to laugh that rather than do any investigating he wants to stay home and keep house for his hetero partner. Hurt seems to be falling in love with O'Neal, and that seems as silly as the other man's struggle against being seen as a "fag." The setup plays on that age old misconception that a gay guy would be instantly attracted to a straight one, when in truth the opposite is probably likely to be the case. No self respecting gay guy would be attracted to a hairy, sweaty, hetero macho blowhard unless he looked like Ryan O'Neal.
Partners is released courtesy of Legend Films which is currently working on getting Paramount's vault titles out on DVD. The movie is shown in its original aspect ratio with the mono soundtrack intact. If you're hoping a lot of remastering was done, it just doesn't pan out that way. Colors look very washed out, and grain and dirt are common throughout. Digital artifacts pop up such as pixilation and shimmering of plaids or complicated patterns steadily. The hour and a half long film is presented with twelve chapter stops and the simplest of menus. There are no extras at all, not even the original marketing material such as theatrical trailers or television spots. We get nothing more than Partners finally on DVD.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Despite all the inane stereotypes, at least Partners has a "sweet" heart underneath it all. John Hurt's Kerwin seems to care a lot about his partner, and the two men do bond to a certain degree that helps to redeem their misguided relationship. And let's face it, Kerwin finds out more about the case than his macho partner simply by gossiping with the gays and learning about the people involved. When the day needs to be saved, it's the sissy half of this team who is the most heroic and insightful. I imagine this in large part to the involvement of script writer and producer Francis Veber who had previously penned the independent gay hit La Cage Aux Folles. I'm sure Hollywood had high hopes he could produce a similar success with this one, and he does turn in a subversive message when you consider Kerwin is in fact the most capable at cracking the case.
Partners is a good title if you want to "see how far we've come" with the treatment of gay characters in cinema. It's a buddy cop movie where the gay half of the team is a hopeless stereotype, and he's constantly referred to as a "fag" at every turn. It can be a touch offensive, and as a comedy it doesn't work so well. I suppose Cruising never would make a good sitcom, but we hardly needed this film to figure that one out. It's a misguided misfire, and here it is on a bare bones DVD. About the most redeeming quality is there is a rather nice butt shot of Ryan O'Neal, and John Hurt plays miserable elegance better than anybody.
Guilty of being too stereotypical and short-sighted, Partners is sentenced to four years in a gay bar where nobody will pick it up.
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