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Movie Review

'Vulgar' Hardly Begins to Describe This Tale


Those eager few who have been thirsting for a movie about the homosexual gang rape of a clown need wait no longer. From the cracking tarmac and peeling paint of a (really, really) depressed New Jersey suburb comes "Vulgar," an independent effort emanating out of the circle surrounding writer-director Kevin Smith ("Clerks," "Dogma"), who this time out settles for merely executive producing and, to use the term generously, acting.

The writer-director is Bryan Johnson, who also appears in the film as the best friend to Will Carlson (Brian Christopher O'Halloran, the still-appealing star of "Clerks"), a nice young man making a poor living as a children's party clown named Flappy.

Will's over-showcased kindheartedness has failed to land him many gigs or even much in the way of common courtesy--either from the alcoholics who litter his frontyard or, particularly, from his abusive mother (Jay Petrick), whose nursing-home bills eat up most of Will's income.

In desperation, Will comes up with a plan. He'll transform himself into Vulgar, an adult party clown who shows up as a joke "stripper" in place of the real thing. But his first job turns out to be a ruse. His employers are a trio of sadists, the foul-mouthed, brutal Ed Fanelli (Jerry Lewkowitz) and his two deranged sons, the obese Frankie (Ethan Suplee, an actor often exploited for his appearance) and skinny Gino (Matt Maher).

To this point, Johnson has mimicked the Smith shooting style: He backs his camera up against the nearest wall and herds all his actors into the frame, no matter how awkwardly (the movie was shot in 16mm and blown up to 35mm).

Similarly, actors adjust their loud line readings to the proximity of the microphone rather than to the expressive needs of a scene. Given the tin-eared dialogue, this isn't the drawback it might have been.

During the rape scene, though, Johnson suddenly evokes memories of low-budget masters of the past. He uses distorting lenses, quick cuts, smart set-ups; even the dialogue is miked better. What you're watching, though, is awesomely coarse. Careful use of the off-screen space keeps the sexual abuse from being too visually graphic. But the family rapists describe what they will do and have done in the most obscene language imaginable and then coerce Will into repeating it. The improved technique may attract you, a little, but this action repulses you, a lot.

Johnson does seem to have some psycho-sexual ax to grind amid all this visual and sexual crudity. For instance, women barely figure in the action, with Will taking on various stereotypical feminine attributes. But good luck finding meaning in all this mess.

Unrated. Times guidelines: Two scenes of sadomasochistic, homosexual rape, including graphic moments of degradation and verbal abuse.



Brian Christopher O'Halloran...Will Carlson

Bryan Johnson...Syd

Jerry Lewkowitz...Ed Fanelli

Ethan Suplee...Frankie Fanelli

Matt Maher...Gina Fanelli

Jay Petrick...Wilma Carlson

Presented and released by Lions Gate Films. Writer-director Bryan Johnson. Producer Monica Hampton. Executive producers Kevin Smith, Scott Mosier. Cinematographer David Klein. Music Ryan Shore. Costume designer Shari Lyn "Chuck" Hipschman. Production designer Lisa Beth Mareiniss. Art director Aaron Hakeem. Running time: 1 hour, 26 minutes.

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