What would it be like for an anti-gay macho man to be forced to associate with a drag queen? In “Flawless”, Robert De Niro does that just that and the results are alternately angry, touching humorous and even exciting. Here he plays robust Walter Koontz, a heroic ex security guard who just happens to live in a run down New York City apartment building that is home to a raging female impersonator named Rusty Zimmerman who sews costumes for his/her co-workers from the club

One day a hooker’s boyfriend swipes some dough from the biggest drug dealer in the neighborhood named Mister Z and hides out in the building. When the shooting breaks out, Walter runs to the rescue but instead of saving anyone, he suffers a stroke. Macho Walter is left partially paralyzed and, by his accounts, less than a man. No more tangos at the dance club, no more hanging with his security buds, just moping and crying around the dingy apartment feeling sorry for himself. That’s the new Walter.

Afraid to go to the hospital for therapy, Walter arranges for a physical therapist to come to him and it’s the therapist who suggests that singing lessons could help him regain his ability to speak and be understood. That’s where Rusty comes in. Walter, whose only words to Rusty up till now had been of the four-letter variety, now seeks him/her out for vocal lessons. Totally reluctant, but financially needy, Rusty gives in and agrees to the chore.

At the same time, Mister Z will leave no stone unturned in trying to find the money that was stolen from him. Just about everyone in the apartment building, including Rusty, whose hooker friend was in on the theft, is suspect.

That’s the set up. The rest is an engaging contretemps of gay-straight bashing from both sides that amounts to some good lessons in common sense and sensitivity.

De Niro is wonderful as a stroke victim. He’s got the physical limitations and speech problems down pat. We feel his pain and his even greater fear. As for Rusty, Philip Seymour Hoffman puts in a terrific job as a gutsy “man-in-a-woman’s body” who’s saving every penny to get his female surgery. There’s no sob story here, just two people learning to get along. I wish they showed more of that and less of the Mister Z violence. But, be assured it adds to good action throughout.

Also features the frightening Luis Saguar as Mister Z, Skipp Sudduth as best buddy Tommy, Barry Miller as Leonard the building manager, and Daphne Rubin-Vega as Tia.

Lotta says “Flawless” has wonderful spirit and top-notch acting.