Sunday, September 15, 2013

Hot Guys with Guns (Wolfe Distributors, 2013)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan – Copyright (c) 2013 by Mark Gabrish Conlan – All rights reserved

Last night Charles and I attended the FilmOut San Diego screening of Hot Guys with Guns, a special event at the Birch North Park Theatre advertised as an action movie for the Gay male audience, a sort of spoof of the James Bond mythos that judging from the advance publicity was going to be a film about a super-spy attempting to foil some horrendous international crime scheme and – this being aimed at a Gay male audience – in the process bedding an assortment of “Bond boys” instead of “Bond girls.” Actually the film turned out to be considerably better than that, owing quite a bit less to James Bond and more to the 1960’s TV series I Spy, particularly in the pairing of a white and a Black character as the leads and the rather diffident relationship between the two – the white guy more impulsive and daring, the Black guy more reasoned and “cool.” Three of the key creative personnel – writer/director Doug Spearman, composer Mervyn Warren (a five-time Grammy Award winner and friend of Spearman’s; the director asked him to pick some songs for the source music on the soundtrack and Warren was so enthused about the project he agreed to compose the background music and also write and perform a theme song), and actor Trey McCurley (who turned in a beautiful performance as Robin, the airheaded second lead, perfectly portraying the mythic figure of the young hot blond guy who comes to Hollywood with ambitions to be an actor, with the right combination of beauty and vacuity) – were present at the screening, and when Spearman was briefly introduced in the audience and turned out to be African-American my hopes went up. “At least,” I thought, “this isn’t going to be another fantasy about incredibly hot and incredibly stupid Gay white men.”

As things turned out, this was a much better film than the advance publicity made it seem; after a marvelous credits sequence using Warren’s song under a set of visuals cribbed from the 1960’s Bond movies, the original I Spy credits and just about every other 1960’s film in the genre, the opening scene turned out to be a decent-looking but decidedly not hot middle-aged man awakening from a drugged stupor with a lot of younger and hotter but similarly indisposed bodies draped across his bed. It turns out his stupor wasn’t his idea; he threw a sex party but it was crashed by two interlopers, one dressed in a black hoodie and a death’s-head mask and the other more or less au naturel, who entered it and set off an aerosol bomb containing a mixture of party drugs and anesthetics to put the entire crowd under so they could rob them. The principals turn out to be Danny Lohman (Marc Anthony Samuel), a Black Gay actor who’s taking a course on how to be a private detective – not because he wants to do that for a living but because he’s up for a part as a P.I. in a TV series called Crime and Punishment (incidentally there was recently an actual series called Crime and Punishment but it wasn’t on the air long and was one of Law and Order producer Dick Wolf’s less successful efforts); and his ex-partner Patrick “Pip” Armstrong (Brian McArdle, whose other main credit on is a voiceover narration for a documentary called It Is No Dream about Theodor Herzl, founder of Zionism), a spoiled rich white kid who lives with his mother Patricia (a wonderful bitch-goddess performance by Joan Ryan) and dumped Danny for another aspiring actor, Robin (Trey McCurley), who’s hot-looking but is enough of an airhead we in the audience definitely get the impression he’s trading down. When Pip is a guest at the next sex party that gets hit by the mystery bandits with their drug bomb, and his Rolex watch (important to him because it’s the only legacy left to him by his father, who abandoned the family for reasons we’re never told) and his car are stolen (and the car is recovered, stripped and covered with anti-Gay graffiti), Danny decides they should use the skills he’s learning in detective class and solve the crime themselves. Despite saddling it with the silly title that makes it sound like a hard-core porn film (which it isn’t, though we get a nice amount of soft-core sex even though Spearman never goes full-frontal on any of his actors, darnit), Spearman manages to pull off something that’s eluded a lot of more prestigious and better-known directors: he manages to fuse comedy and drama so the mystery and the satire reinforce each other instead of clashing.

There are technical problems that reflect the film’s low ($200,000) budget – at one point Spearman ran out of money and had to stop shooting and reorganize his production before he could resume and finish it – notably some scenes in which the sound is over-recorded and key words of dialogue become unintelligible (though that may be a flaw, not of the film itself, but of the Birch North Park Theatre’s lousy sound system) – but for the most part Hot Guys with Guns is a nicely wrought comedy-thriller that owes as much to the comedy-mysteries of the 1930’s as the film noir masterpieces of the 1940’s Spearman cited as his models (he called his film a Gay remake of Double Indemnity – though I didn’t see any resemblance – and said if he gets to produce the sequel he has in mind, it will be based on Sunset Boulevard), and particularly the 1936 film The Ex-Mrs. Bradford. This was an engaging offshoot of the Thin Man series produced at RKO with William Powell (the Thin Man series lead, on loan from MGM) and Jean Arthur as a divorced couple who join forces to solve a mystery and in the process realize they’re meant for each other and reconcile – as do Danny and Pip in Hot Guys with Guns. Spearman said he particularly wanted to build the film around two contrasting Gay male couples, one good and one evil, and though he didn’t stress the point in his commentary both are interracial. He’s also a good enough writer to make his characters relatively complex and morally ambiguous, and when Danny and Pip finally confront the villains they learn that they have a motive for their crimes – revenge against Hollywood’s Gay “A”-list for having been drugged and gang-raped at an earlier party – and one of the bad guys gives a nicely written speech denouncing the superficial materialism of the people he robbed and saying they burned most of the loot because they weren’t really interested in it, just in stealing it as part of their revenge against its possessors. There's also a quirky similarity between the relationship of the two guys in the "bad" couple and Lawrence Tierney and Elisha Cook, Jr. in the surprisingly homoerotic sequences of an otherwise forgettable 1947 RKO noir called Born to Kill, particularly when one of the baddies wants to kill people for no reason except he hates them and the other tries to talk him out of it and, echoing the advice Tierney got in his star-making film Dillinger, tells him never to kill anybody without a reason.

The film also has a core of Spearman’s anguish over being yet another Hollywood aspirant trying to make a career for himself in a town that’s stacked against him; he got as far as a role in a Gay-themed TV series called Noah’s Arc, where he met a lot of the creative personnel he used in this film, but it was on the short-lived Logo ultra-premium cable channel for Queer-themed programming that never got available on enough cable systems to turn a profit. (I guess there’s not much room after the plethora of sports channels we’re inundated with whether we want them or not – and which we pay for in high cable bills whether we ever watch them or not.) Much of the background of this film rings true, including the sheer number of people who come to Hollywood hoping to grasp the brass ring of stardom, and the desperation that afflicts them and leaves them willing to do almost anything for a part. Not surprisingly, the film features casting couches both straight and Gay – at one point, dragooned into serving as butler for a party Pip is throwing for a West Hollywood City Council candidate, Danny is told bluntly by Pip that the guests are the power brokers in the industry he’s trying to crash and he ought to take advantage of his presence there and suck up to them, in more ways than one – and Danny eventually loses the role he was up for in Crime and Punishment after the series’ Black female lead decides he’s either not hot enough or too Gay to be a suitable playmate for her off-screen. There’s also a marvelously funny sequence in which, staking out the home of one of the victims, Danny starts delivering a voiceover narration in the persona of the P.I. character he’s auditioning to play on TV – and the dialogue is a perfectly turned parody of Raymond Chandler’s prose, particularly his penchant for blender-mixed metaphors.

Hot Guys with Guns is a quite capably produced and written mystery, well acted by a strong ensemble cast, though Marc Anthony Samuel in the lead stands out. With Denzel Washington already having aged out of the Black juvenile category and Will Smith rapidly following suit, Samuel, playing a part Spearman wrote for himself but at the last minute realized he was too old for, looks like a good candidate to take over these parts. I also enjoyed the work of Alan Blumenfeld as Jimmy Peppucelli, the teacher of Danny’s P.I. class, though it did seem odd for Spearman to give the character an Italian last name when both the actor himself and the characterization are both so obviously and stereotypically Jewish. Though driven by his own sexual desires, notably for  the tall woman with big breasts who’s a student in his class (and whom he’s grading, shall we say, on the curves), for the most part Jimmy comes off as a welcome voice of reason much the way Dann Florek does as the captain on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. Doug Spearman said that so far the prime audience for the film, or at least the people who’ve enjoyed it the most, has been, surprise, straight men. He thinks it’s because they respond to the film’s dramatization of what straight men think Gay men’s sex lives are like, particularly the old joke that Gay men have the sort of sex lives straight men would have if straight women would let them. Spearman admits he’s well aware it’s not like that in real life, though the kinds of Hollywood players who represent the 1 percent in his movie are the kinds of people who by controlling access to the brass ring of celebrity do have the power to get anybody they want to have sex with them, male, female or anything in between, but nonetheless he thinks the straight men who are fans of his movie are responding to just that fantasy that straight men have to take their prospective sex partners to dinner and romance them and then maybe they actually get them sexually, and maybe they don’t, while Gay men just express mutual glances of interest and then drop their pants for each other.