A vital topic gets a heavy-handed treatment in writer-director (and social media star) Max Emerson’s “Hooked,” a cautionary melodrama about a homeless gay hustler that, in more skilled hands, could have evoked a latter-day “Midnight Cowboy.”
The film finds 18-year-old Jack (Conor Donnally) turning tricks to stay afloat while living in a Manhattan youth hostel with boyfriend Tom (Sean Ormond), both of whom apparently fled oppressive, homophobic parents.
Desperate for a better life for himself and Tom, Jack impulsively puts his faith in wealthy new client Ken (Terrance Murphy), a closeted gay businessman with a long-suffering wife (Katie McClellan). But a sudden trip to Miami with Ken turns ugly for Jack — and proves no bargain for Ken either.
What exactly Jack expects from Ken is a bit fuzzy. Less clear is why the confused, self-hating Ken (he wishes a pill could remove his “urges”) takes the bratty and volatile Jack under his wing so quickly, wholly and expensively.
It’s just one of many forced, unconvincing situations that unfold as Emerson struggles to paint a meaningful social portrait, one that often feels surprisingly retro and clichéd from a guy who seems pretty hip on YouTube.
Spotty acting and casting, many thinly drawn or over-the-top characters, weak stabs at humor, and some awkward editing and dialogue further undermine this well-intentioned effort.
Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes.
Playing: Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills. On VOD June 5.