Dir: Michael Lembeck. US. 2004. 98mins

With My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Nia Vardalos, both as scriptwriter and star, demonstrated that she knew exactly how to turn run-of-the-mill TV fodder into theatrical box-office gold. Her second outing in the genre, the funny and often touching Connie And Carla, preserves and perfects the 'follow your dream' formula, this time transposed to the eternally fertile territory of the drag queen.

There's nothing too deep here, and you see everything coming from miles away (perhaps that's part of the fun), but the film is charming, well-acted, and consistently entertaining. It should perform well in the US, where it opens today (Apr 16). Given that its comedy remains for the most part quite broad and that universal interest in all things gender-bending is strong, it should fare well in most territories around the world.

A blatant rip-off (and competent updating) of Billy Wilder's Some Like It Hot, with an assist from Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, the film stars Vardalos and Toni Collette as Connie and Carla, two tacky dinner-theatre performers replete with the big hair and big clothes reminiscent of the molls in The Sopranos. Reduced to plying their trade among bored passengers in an airport lounge, one day they witness a drug-related murder and have to go on the lam. 'Where will it be most difficult to find us'' they wonder aloud. Why in Los Angeles, owing to its lack of any significant culture (read: dinner theatre).

After the requisite bevy of Los Angeles jokes, the pair end up doing their act with an extra wrinkle, as drag queens, and the manifold comic permutations of this basic premise are expertly spun out.

David Duchovny enters as an update of the Joe E. Brown character from the Wilder film, to provide a love interest for Connie (whom he thinks is a man, under the makeup) and a couple of extra tugs of the heartstring as an uptight financial consultant who can't deal with the fact that his brother Robert (Spinella), a member of Connie and Carla's troupe, is a drag queen. A deliciously campy cameo by Debbie Reynolds rounds out the fun.

None of the payoffs hinted at by these premises fails to arrive right on time, but the film transcends its TV sitcom ethos by dint of its entertaining combination of great show tunes with wonderfully tacky costumes and a string of standard-issue (but well-done) gay jokes. Most importantly, there is chemistry between Vardalos and Collette, who here adds to her amazing repertory with an over-the-top figure of supreme silliness and sweet vulnerability.

Solid support is provided by the engaging Duchovny, who successfully pulls off a tricky combination of tenseness and relaxation in his encounter with this sexual terra incognita. His extended reaction to (what he thinks is) his first homosexual kiss is hilarious. Smaller roles (the hometown boyfriends, the villain) are fairly predictably written and acted, but McGiver as a Russian mobster who falls head over heels in love with American show tunes is excellent.

Direction by Michael Lembeck - who tellingly made his early directorial career on the likes of Friends, Veronica's Closet and Everybody Love's Raymond - is always brilliantly crisp.

Prod cos: Spyglass Entertainment
US dist: Universal Pictures
Int'l dist: UIP
Exec prods: Nia Vardalos, Rita Wilson, Peter Safran
Prods: Roger Birnbaum, Gary Barber, Jonathan Glickman
Scr: Nia Vardalos
Cine: Richard Greatrex
Ed: David Finfer
Prod des: Jasna Stefanovic
Music: Paul Bogaev, Randy Edelman
Main cast: Nia Vardalos, Toni Collette, David Duchovny, Stephen Spinella, Alec Mapa, Robert John Burke, Boris McGiver, Debbie Reynolds