Dirk Shafer's lively "Circuit" is at once a sexy soap opera, at times lurid and bathetic, and also a gritty cautionary tale made by a filmmaker honest enough to have it both ways. In other words, Shafer can see the circuit party scene with its sex, drugs and celebration of physical perfection, the epitome of a shallow and self-destructive aspect of gay culture, but also can acknowledge that it can make participants feel pretty great about themselves, whether the high they're on is natural or otherwise.
"Circuit" is a solid, more polished follow-up to Shafer's 1996 autobiographical mockumentary "Man of the Year," in which he played himself as a gay man who poses for a Playgirl centerfold only to find himself picked as the magazine's man of the year and expected to represent an ideal heterosexual male for a year. Jonathan Wade Drahos stars in "Circuit" as a handsome, clean-cut small-town cop whose chief advises him that as an openly gay man he ought to move to a community more compatible with his lifestyle. In a flash Drahos' John heads to West Hollywood, where his gay cousin Tad (Daniel Kucan), a struggling documentarian, is attempting to make a film about the gay party circuit and its participants. Naive and none too reflective, John is swiftly swept up in the very scene his cousin is documenting. He is dazzled by the availability of so many spectacular men, and in his state of euphoria he doesn't put up too much resistance to the drugs constantly being urged upon him.
Early on, he's attracted to circuit party star Hector (Andre Khabazzi), who's darkly dashing with Rudolph Valentino sideburns. The attraction is mutual, but there's a hitch: Hector is a top-dollar hustler, and it's a matter of pride that nobody has him for free.
Still, Hector sets to work on John to meet a fantasy ideal through workouts and steroids, and he picks out a snappier wardrobe for him. But most of all, he turns John into a drug-abusing party boy, even for those events that John has ostensibly been hired as security.
The overarching question naturally becomes whether John will come to his senses and break his free fall into self-destruction, but his story also frames some sharply drawn character sketches and vignettes created by Shafer and his co-writer, Gregory Hinton. Khabazzi offers an intense, tightly focused portrait of a narcissistic man smart enough to feel a gnawing sense of hollowness despite all the numbing drugs.
Paul Lekakis' Bobby, an iconic gay porn star and stage performer, struggles with impotence and the irony that although he's HIV-positive he may never develop full-blown AIDS and therefore is thrown by the prospect of having to deal with a future that he never thought he'd have. John unexpectedly crosses paths with Kiersten Warren's likable Nina, his vivacious down-to-earth girlfriend from college days, who has come to L.A. to try to make it as a stand-up comedian.
Nina's growing dismay over the path John has taken is paralleled with that of Nancy Allen's Louise, who is becoming increasingly aware of and disgusted by her husband Gino (William Katt) a promoter of big circuit party events who also supplies drugs to them. Brian Lane Green is Gill, Tad's ex-lover who has outgrown the party scene and found himself. There are cameos from Bruce Vilanch as the emcee of the stage show in which both Bobby and Nina appear, and from director Randall Kleiser as Bobby's reassuring doctor.
Shafer does a persuasive and sympathetic job of showing how overwhelming the temptations can be for a young gay man in a major city's gay community. At one point John asks Gill how a man can handle "being gay and having all this freedom." Shafer and his skilled cinematographer, Joaquin Sedillo, incorporate actual major circuit parties in the film. It builds to Palm Springs' legendary, long-running three-day White Party, which annually attracts some 25,000 revelers at the city's convention center. The soundtrack blends actual circuit favorites with original music composed by DJ-remixer Tony Moran and Centaur Entertainment's Nick Di Biase.
Unrated. Times guidelines: heavy drugs, much nudity and sex, pervasive sensuality, language.
Jonathan Wade Drahos...John
Brian Lane Green...Gill
A Jour de Fete release of a Sneak Preview Entertainment production. Director Dirk Shafer. Producers Steven J. Wolfe, Michael J. Roth, Gregory Hinton. Screenplay Hinton and Shafer. Cinematographer Joaquin Sedillo. Editor Glen Richardson. Music Tony Moran; soundtrack and score produced by Nick Di Biase & Moran. Costumes Katy Welch. Production designer John De Meo. Running time: 2 hours.
Exclusively at the Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 848-3500, and the Playhouse 7, 673 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 844-6500.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times