Eating Out

Also: It's All Gone Pete Tong, Mindhunters, Monster-in-Law, The Rider Named Death, and Torremolinos 73.

Eating Out

Opens Fri., May 13, at Harvard Exit

Let's say this for Q. Allan Brocka's otherwise-flaccid debut feature: Its characters are horny as hell at a time when many depictions of gay Americans are studiously well zippered. The only good scene in the entire film, in fact, lets everything hang out— literally and figuratively—for a few minutes of convincingly hot play: Mischievous Gwen (Emily Stiles) seduces out-of-his-element straight stud Caleb (Scott Lunsford) with hot talk over the phone while her homo roommate, Marc (Ryan Carnes), takes the opportunity to give Caleb more person-to-person oral service. Too bad the rest of the movie can't keep it up.

Though Eating Out is filled with further sexual hijinks, it can't shake the desultory feeling that it's been made by a homosexual who's unknowingly regurgitating decades of straight stereotypes concerning queer funny business. Caleb, you see, is playing gay at the suggestion of his roommate, Kyle (Jim Verraros, perhaps the most annoying of American Idol alums), who claims that "chicks" like Gwen only get hot-and-bothered by unavailable men-who-love-men; Kyle is hoping, naturally, that Caleb's presumed rejection of Marc's attentions will throw that hottie into hangdog Kyle's awaiting arms. You'll be sorry if you think Caleb's confused family and former flame don't show up for a surprise dinner. It's as if writer-director Brocka thinks that meshing La Cage Aux Folles with the perpetual hardness of Porky's will make for exhilaratingly fresh farce.

To say it doesn't is to understate the insulting vacuousness of even Brocka's blithely low ambitions. All the women are reduced to grating fag hags, females who treat their gay friends as either pets or missed opportunities. In addition to Stiles, who mostly overcomes her dire circumstances with a no-nonsense adamance that hints at greater comic depths, there's Rebeckah Kochan doing her best as Tiffani, Caleb's voracious, aforementioned ex. She's wedged into supposedly spicy but heartbreakingly unflattering costumes and a role that's somehow even less appetizing. Worse? Brocka gives Verraros a faux-fabulous vernacular that will ride your last nerve; if you make it past exclamations like "This could be parfait!" or "Do not Heche me into a Mariah!" your steely constitution is to be commended. Both Lunsford and Carnes (who's currently providing a gay subplot on Desperate Housewives) make for nice eye candy, but after an hour and a half of wearying contrivance, even those treats go sour. (NR) STEVE WIECKING

It's All Gone Pete Tong

Opens Fri., May 13, at Metro

The megaclub dance-music scene is tough to mockumentarize. The excesses of Ibiza bacchanals have been highly self-parodic right from the jump-off. And those fans and DJs who take their trancey transcendence quite seriously may be beyond the reach of satire. But neither that nor the fact that the scene is well past its late-'90s heyday ever dampens Michael Dowse's exuberant desire to poke belated fun. In his festival crowd pleaser, what's all gone Pete Tong (i.e., "wrong" in Cockney rhyming slang) is the career of DJ Frankie Wilde (charismatic Brit Paul Kaye), a super-stoned deity of the Pacha decks. Wilde is a gold-toothed, projectile-puking party machine touting his flip-flop collection when he's not sailing triumphantly over the heads of adoring Ibiza clubbers in a crown of thorns.

If Dowse's parade of deadpan talking heads—still-faceless megastars like Paul Van Dyk and Lol Hammond—seems kind of stale, his deft dance-floor swoops manage to capture the ravey thrill that eluded "electronica" cash-ins like Groove. It's all giggles until Wilde goes deaf. Then the tone changes completely. Though Kaye's performance doesn't, er, miss a beat, Tong concentrates on bringing us along into Wilde's new silence. Lots of the movie's ideas work well—the ringing tinnitus, the conversion of sound to visible waves, the trimming of treble and bass for underwatery effect, the removal of ambient noise entirely. But as the humor flags, Tong starts to feel more like an exercise. Also, since Wilde has mainly been a cartoon thus far, it's strange when his 24-hour party morphs into a sweet little tale about lipreading and Photoshop beat matching. (R) LAURA SINAGRA

Mindhunters

Opens Fri., May 13, at Meridian and others

It's been ages since director Renny Harlin stomped in from Finland to give Hollywood action flicks a revivifying jolt of his rakish whimsy. Now he's just a sad old Hollywood hack. He refreshed the conventions of Elm Street and Die Hard, but his talent never recovered from Cutthroat Island. His update of 1945's And Then There Were None is about as fresh as 60-year-old lutefisk. Agatha Christie's original 1939 novel, inspired by the murderously racist 1869 music-hall song "Ten Little Niggers," which ripped off the racist 1868 American song "Ten Little Indians," was a masterpiece —you couldn't guess the killer, only admire the aptness of the deaths, rooted in each character's idiosyncratic sin.

The sin of Mindhunters is that it doesn't give a shit about the characters. It's a reversion to the original song's contempt for the individual. Val Kilmer, another once-rising talent slumming for a quick paycheck, plays a gonzo trainer of FBI serial-killer catchers. As a truly final exam, he sends his students to a remote island, where there's a movielike set of a small town rigged with booby traps—dummies that pop up without warning, forcing students to make split-second decisions. Did you just shoot a bad guy, or an innocent child? Turns out the booby traps are actually rigged to kill the students one by one. If you're a smoker, you're ill-advised to use the island's cigarette machines; if you're afraid of water, be very afraid of pools on the island.

Christian Slater, ER hunk Eion Bailey, Kathryn Morris of TV's Cold Case, LL Cool J, and some lesser actors go through their paces efficiently enough, and many will find this a serviceable exercise, in a video-game-like way. They won't mind that when one character gets frozen and falls into three parts, it's cheesier than any special effect you'll see on Mystery Science Theater. But the absence of character matters, and there's no tension in the travesty of Christie's plot. Only Harlin's reputation gets a really dramatic snuffing. (R ) TIM APPELO

Monster-in-Law

Opens Fri., May 13, at Pacific Place and others

She waited 15 years for this? Having flooded the TV talk shows to promote her new autobiography and—in the same breath—apologize for her, ahem, little North Vietnamese escapade three decades back, Jane Fonda has chosen a comeback vehicle that isn't even her vehicle. Jennifer Lopez is clearly the driver, and it's from her perspective—about to be married to a hunky Los Angeles surgeon (Michael Vartan)—that Fonda's meddling future mother-in-law looms. J.Lo's fans, almost all of whom were born after the Vietnam War, may be forgiven for asking, "Jane who?" After all, 15 years is more than a lifetime for a very large and profitable segment of the moviegoing public. To them, I suspect, the laughs come not from Fonda as bitch but from Fonda as old woman willing to wear soup on her face. And pasta sauce on her white Gucci outfit. And to swill cough syrup for the alcohol content. And to tackle a Britney Spears clone on national TV. To those who remember Fonda as an actress with two Oscars under her belt, she's showing us her steely core beneath politics and personality and family history. In Monster-in-Law, she's a showbiz trooper. If the script requires her to look like a fool, she does—and with gusto. If she can endure having a Vietnam vet spit in her face (as recently happened on her book tour), playing second banana to J.Lo is hardly a problem. She's tough enough to take it. As J.Lo says, "Bring it on, Grandma."

The rest of the movie, directed by Legally Blonde's Robert Luketic, is considerably softer; the only testosterone in evidence is Vartan's stubble, and he's banished to a medical conference for much of the picture. Both J.Lo and Fonda are generally upstaged by their flunkies (the obligatory gay best friend, plus gal pals including Wanda Sykes), who get all the best laughs. The imminent wedding—which out-of-the-nuthouse former TV host Fonda threatens to thwart—is less important than who wears white at the ceremony. The comedy is clumsy and obvious but, compared to the Farrelly brothers or Meet the Fockers (where Barbra Streisand finds herself in similar postmenopausal straits), almost sophisticated. Almost.

A word about J.Lo: Fonda is not the only one far above her material here. In her reaction shots, her lagging line readings, her hand-waving incredulity at Fonda's Wicked Witch of the West, J.Lo makes a charming Cinderella (never mind the mismatched movie references). Monster-in-Law is less about marriage than it is about class, about a woman Fonda calls "a temp . . . a slut . . . a two-bit tramp" marrying above her station. Jane Austen would applaud her bootstrapping temerity (which Elaine Stritch, arriving in a last-minute cameo, articulates quite plainly). I won't say there's any kind of generational passing of the torch here, but if J.Lo ever ventures to Baghdad, you can be sure it'll be with the USO. (PG-13) BRIAN MILLER

The Rider Named Death

Runs Fri., May 13–Thurs., May 19, at Grand Illusion

Everybody is colored, as Captain Beefheart used to say—otherwise, you couldn't see them. Ah, but he never saw Russian director Karen Shakhnazarov's adaptation of Boris Savinkov's 1909 book Pale Rider, whose terrorist protagonist is pallid and colorless to the point of emotional invisibility. A Rider Named Death is deader than communism.

It could've been a vital movie. Savinkov was an important revolutionary who captured his murderous exploits in memoir-tinged novels. Shakhnazarov does a nice job of capturing the lost Moscow of a century ago: horse-drawn taxis clattering over cobblestone streets; ladies promenading in the height of Paris fashion, the feathers in their elaborate hats waving like snooty capitalist flags; terrorists posing as natty bastards knocking back vodka with the best caviar. Their hedonism in a good cause is downright convincing. The re-creations of the music hall and the opera are opulent, though it seems like he repeats the same can-can footage about six times to no apparent dramatic purpose.

The scruffier revolutionaries' apartments are broodingly atmospheric, too, and it's fun to watch lovelorn terrorist Erna (Kseniya Rappoport) inadvisably snort cocaine and build bombs in biscuit tins and wrap them with festive red ribbons symbolizing bloodshed. She pines for the Savinkov character, Georges (Andrei Panin, who resembles Harvey Keitel with his blood drained and replaced by embalming fluid). Georges dutifully screws her, but he's obsessed with Elena (the gorgeous Anastasia Makeeva), who's married to an officer (Valeri Storozhik) who keeps glimpsing Georges in the street and stares at him with a clueless look like the RCA Victor dog, knowing he's seen him somewhere before.

Nothing comes of the love triangle. Nothing much comes of Georges' plot to bomb the Grand Duke's carriage, either. Georges' gang that can't bomb straight makes a few inept attempts, but proves better at killing innocent bystanders than villainous czarists. They spend almost every minute sitting or standing around plotting, and muttering pseudophilosophical banalities, like jerkoff Raskolnikovs. Some intelligentsia. Each terrorist gets a trite motive: One had a wife killed by Cossacks, another struggles to reconcile his Christian pacifism with his revolutionary imperatives. Not one character moves one millimeter in any dramatic arc. The characters do not really interact in any way. Even the most action-packed scenes are bizarrely inert.

There is a certain sleepwalker elegance in all this, and the movie always looks gleamingly good. But you'd never imagine that this guy helped foment the battleship Potemkin revolt, and the film is no Battleship Potemkin. "I got very tired during shooting," Panin has said. "The subject matter seemed to suck the life out of me like as a vampire." It sure did. (NR) TIM APPELO

Torremolinos 73

Runs Fri., May 13–Thurs., May 19, at Varsity

The funny thing about Spanish director Pablo Berger's debut feature—besides the fact that it's about an encyclopedia salesman who becomes a porn auteur—is that it's as much a work of standard-issue erotica in places as the Super-8 skin flicks it satirizes.

Alfredo (Javier Cámara, the male nurse in Talk to Her) is getting door after door slammed in his face. No one's interested in buying an entire set of encyclopedias, so his firm agrees to work with a Scandinavian publisher compiling a reference set on human sexuality. Each volume comes with a Super-8 film illustrating the, um, mating rites of a particular culture. Alfredo gets a choice: make homemade porn with his wife, Carmen (All About My Mother's Candela Peña), for 50,000 pesetas a pop—or find himself a new job. Hmmm . . . tough call.

Throughout, Berger pokes fun at conservative '70s Spanish mores, which make easy grist for his satiric mill—perhaps a little too easy. In one scene, Carmen overhears her boss' huffy review of Last Tango in Paris: "That wouldn't happen in Spain!" And when adult filmmaking agrees with both Alfredo and Carmen (he becomes a sought-after director, she a porn star), the industry screws up their marriage. A quick scan of Jenna Jameson's recent memoir will tell you that's par for the course, and the rest of Torremolinos is, too. Cámara and Peña invest real energy in their characters, making their plight as affecting as it can be, yet the film falls short as both satire and porn. If buying an encyclopedia as a pretext for watching dirty movies is absurd, isn't concocting an outlandish plot just to show comely actors coupling even sillier? It may contain plenty of sex, but in comedic terms, Torremolinos 73 amounts to 91 minutes of foreplay with no money shot. (NR) NEAL SCHINDLER

 
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