3 stars (out of 4)
Richard Day's soufflé-light, daringly whimsical "Straight-Jacket" belongs to that small club of gay films obsessed with recapturing the tone and droll, seriocomic banter of movies from Hollywood's glittering Technicolor age.
Like Day's previous effort, "Girls Will Be Girls," "Straight-Jacket" centers on a self-obsessed Hollywood star, this time Guy Stone (Matt Letscher), a closeted hunk of the silver screen about to play the title role in "Ben-Hur." But in order to keep his contract and hide his secret from the press, Stone marries swooning fan Sally (Carrie Preston), who isn't aware of his sexual predisposition.
As Stone, Letscher looks and acts like the illegitimate playboy offspring of Ewan McGregor and Chris Isaakslick and suave with impossibly wavy hair. After years of maintaining his lifestyle of discreet promiscuity with the help of his butler, Victor (the uproariously buttoned-down Michael Emerson), Stone's world starts to crumble as Sally invades his home with a little help from the Sears catalog.
And in the Communist-hunting McCarthy era, Stone falls for the openly Red, openly gay novelist Rick (Adam Greer). Though Greer starred in the 2000 off-Broadway production in the same role, he's mismatched against Letscher's screen-devouring charm and classic movie-star looks.
Intentionally artificial-looking, "Straight-Jacket" employs a fakey computer model to double for Stone's lavish estate, but this is only distracting when Day pastes his actors George Lucas-style onto green screens (though far less effectively than Lucas). Although technically primitive, "Straight-Jacket" employs brightly colored sets and wardrobes to evoke the era that inspired "Down With Love" and "Die, Mommie, Die."
But most of all, Day's pyrotechnic dialogue and instinctive comic timing make "Straight-Jacket" a delight, especially when his actors unleash lines such as "Without my fans, I'd be no better than they are," and Sally's description of love as a "big, heart-shaped box filled with chocolate razor blades." A talented craftsman of dark raillery, Day and his fixation on Hollywood melodrama are indulged to delicious effect in his sophomore effort.
Written and directed by Richard Day, based on his play; photographed by Michael Pinkey; production designed by Kristen McCarron and Mark Worthington; music by Stephen Edwards; edited by Chris Conlee; produced by Michael Warwick. A Regent Releasing release; opens Friday at the Music Box Theatre. Running time: 1:36. No MPAA rating.
Guy Stone - Matt Letscher
Sally - Carrie Preston
Rick Foster - Adam Greer
Jerry - Veronica Cartwright
Saul - Victor Raider-Wexler
Freddie Stevens - Jack Plotnick