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MOVIE REVIEW : Charting Troubled Life of Gay Teens

November 02, 1994|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In his fourth and best feature, "Totally F***ed Up," provocative and talented independent filmmaker Gregg Araki delves into the troubled world of gay teen-agers.

As in his first two films, the "no-budget" "Three Bewildered People in the Night" (1987) and "The Long Weekend (O'Despair)" (1989), he evokes desolate images of L.A, especially at night, which makes our town, in the words of one of this film's young men, "the alienation capital of the world."

As an angry gay man, Araki here addresses the disproportionately high suicide rate among gay teens. Although more serious than he has ever been, Araki speaks his mind without being preachy and, what's more, as in "The Living End" (1992), which told of two very different HIV-positive young men on the run, uses color and direct sound without losing the grit of his earliest pictures.

Principal among six friends, two of them a solid, good-humored lesbian couple (Susan Behshid, Jenee Gill), is the lonely Andy (James Duval), an appealing youth with a James Dean look and vulnerability, who doesn't believe love exists--until he's swept off his feet by the handsome, slightly older but vastly more experienced Ian (Alan Boyce).

Meanwhile, Andy's pals Steven (Gilbert Luna), an aspiring filmmaker, and his lover Deric (Lance May) soon experience a crisis in their relationship when Steven strays, trying to blame it on the fact that the new guy in his life just happened to have a bootleg Nine Inch Nails tape to tempt him with. Rounding out the group is the more easygoing skater dude Tommy (Roko Belic).

Araki effectively punctuates his story with quotes in the manner of one of his acknowledged idols, Jean-Luc Godard, and probing interviews by Steven, who's always poking a camcorder in his friends' faces. Indeed, the film is tautly, faultlessly structured, and once again Araki manages to create a spontaneous, off-the-cuff quality while actually maintaining tight control of his material.

Once again we're in the world of looming billboards, deserted parking structures and all-night coffee shops in which his disaffected young people do an awful lot of hanging out. Whereas in his first two films Araki brought out the humor in his people's self-absorption, here he's lashing out at the gay-bashing and what he aptly sums up as "institutionalized homophobia" that makes the teen years so tough on so many kids.

Araki presents none of his young people, all of whom are played so expertly by his cast, as gay stereotypes but rather as indistinguishable in dress and mannerisms from other L.A. teen-agers. (Only one of the actors is actually gay.) The irony is that if any of these young men had been even slightly obviously homosexual, they might have developed lots more resiliency.

* MPAA rating: Unrated. Times guidelines: It includes blunt language, sexual candor, one graphic shot from a porn film.

'Totally F***ed Up'

James Duval: Andy Roko Belic: Tommy Susan Behshid: Michele Jenee Gill: Patricia Gilbert Luna: Steven Lance May: Deric Alan Boyce: Ian A Strand Releasing presentation of a Desperate Pictures production. Writer-director-cinematographer-editor Gregg Araki. Producers Araki, Andrea Sperling. Postproduction sound designer Alberto Garcia. Running time: 1 hour, 18 minutes.

* In limited release at the Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (213) 848-3500.

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