(NR) 4 stars Since her big-screen debut I"m the One that I Want two years ago (which grossed $1.4 million with only nine prints in circulation), Margaret Cho has gained notoriety as the boldest, brashest and most perceptive American comic since Richard Pryor.
Her second full-length standup film, the aptly titled Notorious C.H.O., begins with a crude South Park-style animated short in which a stereotypical Korean convenience store owner and a black customer antagonize each other mercilessly before finding common ground in their love of onion-flavored snack foods. It succinctly illustrates Cho"s ability to harness the absurd in service of serious social commentary, which she does effortlessly throughout the marathon standup routine that follows. Cho clomps onstage in a plaid shirt, jeans and platform shoes, and opens with a joke about how she aided the post Sept. 11 rescue efforts that sets the tone for the rest of the routine. Where was Cho in the days following the attacks? Doing her patriotic duty by giving blow jobs to the weary rescue workers at Ground Zero, of course! The universality of Cho"s humor lies in her ability to examine every facet of life - even the terrorist attacks - through the lens of sexuality, that most fundamental of human experiences, and she never misses a chance to put this ability to maximum comic effect. Under the watchful eyes of Cho"s "drag queen guardian angels," Notorious C.H.O. finds her exploring and exploding subjects both mundane and taboo: her first colonic hydrotherapy treatment ("no one"s really sure whether it"s a medical procedure or entertainment"), what would happen if men menstruated, her elusive G-spot ("I logged onto mapquest.com and everything, but I just can"t find it!"), opportunities for Asian women in Hollywood ("My choices were limited - I would dream that someday maybe I could be an extra on M.A.S.H. or a prostitute"), her trip to an S&M club, her battle with eating disorders and drug addiction and - of course - her eccentric Korean parents, all of which is peppered with the missives against racism, sexism and homophobia that have won her several human rights awards for her work. Cho punctuates her shrewd observations of American culture with impeccable comic timing and an arsenal of impressions and facial grimaces that had the sold-out audiences at the film"s Indiana preview at the 2002 Gay and Lesbian Film Festival in stitches for most of its 95 minutes. If you bring an open mind, Notorious C.H.O. will undoubtedly be one of the funniest films you see this year. Exclusively at Key Cinemas for one week only.