"Summer Storm" is a contemporary teen summer romance with a modern sexual twist--though in many ways, it's just the same old malarkey. Set at a Bavarian summer camp for high school rowing teams, the dramatic focus here is on a young gay coxswain-captain's coming out, after he discovers he's in love with his best pal, an oarsman. The movie was directed and co-written by a young German filmmaker Marco Kreuzpaintner--based, he says, on his own experiences--and though he tries for some psychological realism, human comedy and drama, it really seems more of a kitschy sex fantasy and silly lark.
In "Summer Storm," the woodsy camp plays host to small-town Starnberg Rowing Club's high school-age boys and girls teams, where the movie's protagonist, coxswain Tobi (played by a much-awarded young German actor, Robert Stadlober)--a school leader with a usually somewhat cynical sense of humor--bends adoring gazes on his cute chum Achim (Kostja Ullmann). Tobi has previously initiated just-us-pals sex play with Achim. Now he starts behaving jealously toward his buddy's girlfriend Sandra (Miriam Morgenstern) and indifferently toward his own stunning supposed steady, Anke (Alicja BachledaCuru).
Despite these obvious signs, Achim seems blissfully ignorant for a while. But then a hot-trotting gay Berlin rowing team called Queer Strokes shows up rather conveniently and ratchets up the temperature. Soon, some of Tobi's teammates are under erotic assault from Queer Strokes' insatiable captain, Malte (Hanno Koffler), while Tobi himself has a sudden blissful lakeside interlude with willing Queer Strokes' guy Leo (Marlon Kittel)--an incident that only riles up his passion for Achim and cools off any chances for poor Anke. There's a woodsy thunderstorm and a climactic race and everything comes out pretty much the way most summer camp movies would--with one exception.
It all plays like an erotic fantasy dreamed up on a lonely camp night , albeit one with more believable characters than usual. Stadlober's Tobi, an over achiever falling apart, projects convincing angst and inner turmoil. Koffler's Malte is a plausible pick-up artist and Bachleda-Curu's Anke is so pretty and nice, you begin to feel sorry for her. (Doesn't she deserve part of the fantasy?) Kreuzpaintner has a knack for bringing these characters and others to life, at least partially. But he doesn't really create life; he simply cooks up another movie dream.
As gay Bavarian summer rowing camp movies go, "Storm" is OK, though of course there isn't much competition--and this new "Summer Storm" should definitely not be confused with the minor film classic of the same name, the 1944 Anton Chekhov-based picture by Douglas Sirk. But the locations are sunny and the young cast (with a few adults around for the nearly non-existent supervision) is lively and photogenic.
That's the good news. The bad news is that it's just as unoriginal as most straight sex comedies. If much of the new "Storm's" stuff really happened to Kreuzpaintner, he's living in a movie with an under-written screenplay. And if you don't share his fantasy, watching this will be a tough row.
Robert Stadlober (left) and Kosja Ullmann in 'Summer Storm' (March 24, 2006)