There are a lot of words that could be used to describe filmmaker Joel Schumacher's latest effort, but "Flawless" certainly wouldn't be one of them.

After failing to succeed consistently with bombast — he directed the worst two installments of the "Batman" film series ("Batman Forever" and "Batman and Robin"), as well as the not-worth-the-fuss thriller "8mm" — Schumacher has apparently sounded the retreat and decided to get a little more intimate with this character drama.

Unfortunately for him, this "To Wong Foo . . . " wannabe has all the other earmarks of "classic" Schumacher works, such as ludicrous, heavy-handed plotting, an inconsis-

tent tone and an air of insincerity that pervades the entire thing.

If that wasn't bad enough, the performances are all over the acting map, especially those from leads Robert De Niro and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

De Niro stars as Walt Koontz, a retired New York City security guard who's a hero to everyone in his neighborhood — except for the drag queens who bring out his homophobic side.

All that's about to change. While trying to rescue one of his neighbors, Walt suffers a paralyzing stroke. Suddenly unable to speak clearly or even walk without a cane or assistance, he begins feeling sorry for himself.

To ease him out of his funk, Walt's doctor suggests extensive physical rehabilitation, which includes singing lessons to help ease his speech problems. The catch is, the only available instructor is his upstairs neighbor, Rusty (Hoffman), a flamboyant entertainer who is more than a little delighted to see Walt groveling for help.

However, he agrees to aid his former nemesis. And in spite of their obvious differences, the two grudgingly become friends of sorts.

It is an odd premise, but not the worst that Schumacher could have to work with. Bizarrely enough, he decides to turn the film into a thriller in the final 20 minutes — well after the dramatic elements have run out of steam.

That's not completely surprising, though, considering the fact that he wrote the screenplay himself — something he hasn't done since the 1985 Brat Pack big-screen soap opera "St. Elmo's Fire."

Frankly, it isn't even that good. In fact, the movie seems to have more in common with the silly 1983 film "D.C. Cab," which he also wrote and which took a similar plot turn at the end.

Of course, it's not like Schumacher gets that much helps from his cast. As Walt, De Niro's post-stroke physical afflictions seem to come and go, and he's not nearly likeable enough to care about.

And Hoffman, who's gotten raves for some of his early work (in particular, both "Boogie Nights" and "Happiness"), can't quite figure out whether he should camp it up or just play it straight.

"Flawless" is rated R for considerable profanity, violent gunplay and a vicious beating, use of crude sexual slang terms and some questionable humor, and simulated drug use (marijuana and crack cocaine).