On paper, In & Out looks like a can't-miss prospect: Great reviews, winning cast.

But is the movie too...(whisper) gay?

That's what Hollywood's going to be watching closely this weekend as the Kevin Kline screwball comedy about a straight high-school teacher who gets "outed" on live TV opens from coast to coast--from the heartland the Bible belt.

Paramount Pictures, for one, insists that it's not sweating a backlash and is marketing In & Out like it would "any other mainstream comedy," in the words of its vice chairman Rob Friedman.

But the Wall Street Journal finds that the studio is treading carefully in its ad campaign. The TV commercials play up the Three's Company-esque mistaken identity premise; while the poster puts Kevin Kline against an antiseptic white background, holding a wedding bouquet and squinting (whatever that's supposed to mean). It's all very safe and, indeed, the PG-13-rated movie is described by USA Today as being "as sexually coy as a Doris Day movie."

Notably missing from the marketing campaign, is "the kiss"--the one Tom Selleck, as a gay journalist covering the furor caused by Kline's accidental outing, plants on the leading man. In the context of a fluffy comedy, you'd think this sort of thing would be a mile short of shocking or noteworthy. This is, after all, the year of Ellen's "Puppy Episode." But Kline says "the kiss" is just about the only thing reporters wanted to talk to him about after a recent screening. ("It was just ludicrous," the actor has said.)

If the allegedly liberal media's obsessing over the smooch, what does this mean for the movie's chances in more conservative regions? In Hollywood-speak, how's it going to play in Peoria?

Actress Debbie Reynolds, who plays Kline's befuddled mother, told USA Today, "there's going to be some people who won't like this movie at all, who will say, 'I don't want to see a movie about gay people.'"

The Birdcage and Philadelphia certainly didn't see ticket sales suffer because of gay characters or storylines. In & Out, though, is different, stepping beyond the boundaries for gay-themed mainstream movies in the 1990s--funny drag queens, noble people with AIDS.

For a Paramount publicity executive, not of that theorizing matters. Says Blaise Noto: "This is a very funny movie in an era when there are not a lot of strong comedies out there. And that's the bottom line."

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