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Nice 'trick': Sweetness That Defies Labels


A light and amusing item with a lively sense of humor, "trick" doesn't sound like the kind of film that's going to make a difference. But then again, it just might.

For though its romantic comedy setups are classic, "trick's" protagonists are not Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn wannabes but two young and attractive gay men. And while the film, a surprise hit at Sundance, was clearly made with a gay audience in mind, it has enough sweetness and humanity, enough ability to involve, that it could cross over into a mainstream independent audience as well.

Unlike mainstream films running the gamut from "Philadelphia" to "Birdcage," "trick" doesn't compromise to attract a straight audience and doesn't need to. Though we're shown nothing more explicit than passionate kisses and lingering glances at attractive bodies, Jason Schafer's charming script has no compunctions about being verbally explicit.

While gay films with serious issues on their minds can be painful or edgy or both, "trick" is simply a boy-meets-boy farce. It's not that this hasn't been attempted before--"Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss" was a recent example--its that an engaging cast and director Jim Fall, a veteran of Manhattan theater making his feature debut, simply do a more appealing job than the competition.

A story of how complicated things can get when your fantasy threatens to turn real, "trick" begins with a decidedly non-fantasy situation for Gabriel (Christian Campbell, Neve's brother). He's sleeping in the doorway outside his one-room New York apartment, while his straight roommate Rich (Brad Beyer) cavorts with one in an endless string of one-night-stands who fill up his dance card while his fiancee is off in Paris.

Fresh-faced with an appealing boyish smile, but easily flummoxed, Gabriel works as a receptionist in a law office, but his real passion is musical theater. An aspiring songwriter, his latest creation, a musical called "Enter You" (as in "I thought my story line was through, but enter you"), gets a decidedly mixed reception at a Broadway songwriters workshop.

Maybe his friend Perry (actor and cabaret singer Steve Hayes) is right--maybe the problem is that Gabe has never had a really great kiss. Or maybe it's that his old friend Katherine performed the song at the workshop.

A pal since high school, brassy and bossy Katherine (Tori Spelling, alternately effective and excessive) is a hopeless actress oblivious to her lack of talent. A minor league diva currently in a production of "Salome" set in a women's prison, Katherine is as indefatigable as she is impossible to discourage.

To cheer himself up and pass the time, Gabe makes a visit to a gay bar, where he can't take his eyes off a really attractive go-go boy who has the distant, self-absorbed quality of all unattainable fantasies.

But because New York is really nothing more than a big small town, who should he run into on the subway but that very same stunning Mark (J.P. Pitoc). The physical attraction between them is strong enough that when Gabe bemoans the fact that he has to turn his apartment over to his roommate in two hours, Mark immediately replies, "You can do a lot in two hours."

Gabe can't believe his good luck, but that luck is about to change, for everything in the universe soon conspires to create an endless series of obstacles to the two would-be lovers.

First, Katherine is camped out in Gabe's apartment, asking, "What are you guys up to?" with an obliviousness even Grandma Moses wouldn't have been able to match. Then Rich shows up early with girlfriend Judy (Lorri Bagley), newly back from Paris. Then the boys get involved with Perry's romantic woes, and finally an ill-advised trip to a hot dance club involves Greg with some of Mark's old flames, including been-around drag queen Miss Coco Peru (Clinton Leupp).

During the course of these diverting misadventures, something happens to Gabe and Mark. They start to reveal themselves to each other and feelings more complicated than lust threaten to come into play. It's the oldest story in the book, but with actors this appealing, we're happy to see it all over again.

After "trick" was shown at Sundance, screenwriter Schafer told Premier magazine he was besieged by agents who asked, "Have you written anything that isn't gay?," a question that ought to be turned on its head. For what would be really exciting is more films like "trick" that refuse to be limited by their characters' sexuality.

* MPAA rating: R, for strong language and sexual content. Times guidelines: The language is quite graphic.


Christian Campbell: Gabriel

J.P. Pitoc: Mark

Tori Spelling: Katherine

Steve Hayes: Perry

Brad Beyer: Rich

Lorri Bagley: Judy

Released by Fine Line Features. Director Jim Fall. Producers Eric d'Arbeloff, Jim Fall, Ross Katz. Executive producers Anthony Bregman, Mary Jane Skalski. Screenplay Jason Schafer. Cinematographer Terry Stacey. Editor Brian A. Kates. Music David Friedman. Production design Jody Asnes. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

In limited release.

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