The sleek opening credits of "Testosterone," which is as passionate as a tango, are punctuated by drawings that chart the flowering romance between a handsome L.A. graphic novelist (David Sutcliffe) and an even handsomer Argentine (Antonio Sabato Jr.). The two are uninhibitedly consumed with passion for each other, or so it seems. Then Sabato's Pablo goes out for cigarettes and never returns.
Surprise after surprise follows in this increasingly dark comedy, which is loaded with sharp observations and exceptionally complex characterizations that are often the mark of a skilled adaptation of a novel. In this instance, director David Moreton, who made his mark with the memorable "Edge of Seventeen," co-adapted, with Dennis Hensley, a James Robert Baker novel, and the result is a confident, shrewd comedy, at once sexy and gleefully nasty.
The mere two weeks Dean (Sutcliffe) and Pablo were together were long enough for Dean to fall hopelessly in love. Dean's ugly encounter with Pablo's hard, glamorous mother (Sonia Braga) at an art opening yields the information that Pablo has returned to his native Buenos Aires -- and that Dean will never see him again. That's all that Dean, angrier and more overwrought than ever, needs to hear to catch the next plane to Buenos Aires. By the time he tracks down Pablo's address, his mother has returned home in time to slam the door in his face.
Dean is driven by sheer determination, and it's impossible to predict what course his quest will take. At this point, "Testosterone" has deftly set up its pretext for observing American behavior abroad, and how it contrasts with that of a sister (Celina Font) and a brother (Leonardo Brzezicki), lifelong friends of Pablo. Neither Pablo nor Font's beautiful Sofia nor Brzezicki's intense Marcos is remotely what he or she seems, yet each clearly has a far more worldly and realistic view of life than Dean.
Dean has made it big as a graphic artist, but success had made him feel lost until Pablo came along. Dean can be arrogant and insensitive, behaving like a classic Ugly American. At the same time he is sexy and can be charming, while his vulnerability, naivete and doggedness make him sympathetic. As it happens, Pablo's family is rich and politically influential. Sofia, who is a survivor, and Marcos, who is brilliant but high-strung, are ambiguous figures, aristocrats in danger of losing the mansion built by their grandfather. Pablo moves in a traditional, privileged world, which allows him to indulge his desires freely as long as he keeps up appearances. But where is he?
That question propels the plot but becomes secondary to Dean's self-discovery. The artfully constructed "Testosterone" builds and daringly goes over the edge yet gets away with it.
Braga, ever sexy and gorgeous, is an amusingly forceful woman who wears makeup, flashy clothes and jewels like armor. Jennifer Coolidge heads the supporting cast as Dean's publisher, a hearty vulgarian.
"Testosterone" is great-looking, with cinematographer Ken Kelsch making splendid use of of Buenos Aires' grand Beaux-Arts structures. It's a witty, sophisticated and intimate film, with the seductive sheen and polish of far more expensive movies.
MPAA rating: Unrated
Times guidelines: Adult fare: sex, nudity, language
David Sutcliffe...Dean Seagrave
Antonio Sabato Jr....Pablo Alesandro
Sonia Braga...Senora Alesandro
A Strand Releasing presentation. Director David Moreton. Producers David Moreton, Kathryn Riccio. Screenplay David Moreton, Dennis Hensley, based on the novel by James Robert Baker. Cinematographer Ken Kelsch. Editor Roger Schulte. Music Marco D'Ambrosio. Production designer Jorge Ferrari. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.
Exclusively at the Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 848-3500; Playhouse 7, 673 Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 844-6500; and the University 6, Campus Drive at Stanford, across from UCI, (800) FANDANGO 143#.