John Greyson's "Zero Patience" is an instance of not enough of a good thing. As the first film musical in English to deal with AIDS, it's imaginatively conceived but is neither as fully developed nor as corrosive as one would expect, given the subject.
Not helping matters is that its style is old-fashioned, with its story coming to a halt for the musical numbers, which were composed by Glenn Schellenberg. They're fun, lively and often outrageous in themselves, but John Greyson proves to be a more adept lyricist than a director, for this Canadian film seriously lacks pace and fluidity. Its topicality, poignancy, considerable male nudity and proven mix of camp and sentimentality will nevertheless attract gay audiences, but it's mildly entertaining at best.
It's Greyson's notion to have Sir Richard Burton (John Robinson) discover the Fountain of Youth so that he may become an eternally young taxidermist at Toronto's Museum of Natural History, which is about to launch a Hall of Contagion. Why not devote a display to Patient Zero, the promiscuous gay French-Canadian flight attendant cited by the late Randy Shilts in his "And the Band Played On" as the man who introduced the AIDS virus to North America? Greyson's admirable aim is to demolish the aura of certainty that has been built up in the media in regard to this and other theories as to the source of AIDS and also to promote alternative health care in the treatment of the virus.
Resurrecting Victorian explorer-adventurer Burton is an inspired idea, but Greyson unfortunately assumes his audience will know why. Greyson has described the man who famously failed to discover the source of the Nile as "the perfect character to fail in his search for the source of AIDS . . . a terribly conflicted Victorian . . . a racist and misogynist who obsessively analyzes race and sexuality in surprisingly sensitive ways. He had a deep personal and scholarly interest in the subject of homosexuality." Very little of this background comes across in Greyson's Sir Richard, who in Robinson's appealing portrayal comes across as a sweetly obtuse hunk who sees the errors of his way through falling in love with the ghost of the likewise hunky Patient Zero (Normand Fauteux), who is invisible to all but Burton. The smart-looking "Zero Patience" has its heart and mind in the right place, and you want to like it more than you do.
* MPAA rating: Unrated. Times guidelines: It includes considerable male nudity, some frontal; frank discussion of gay sex; language, adult themes.
John Robinson: Sir Richard Burton
Normand Fauteux: Patient Zero
Dianne Heatherington: Mary
Richardo Keens-Douglas: George
A Cinevista release of a Zero Patience Productions presentation. Writer-director John Greyson. Composer Glenn Schellenberg. Producers Louise Garfield, Anna Stratton. Executive producer Alexandra Raffe. Cinematographer Miroslaw Baszak. Editor Miume Jan. Choreographer Susan McKenzie. Costumes Joyce Schure. Production designer Sandra Kybartas. Set decorator Armando Sgignuoli. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.
* Exclusively at the Sunset 5, Sunset Boulevard and Crescent Heights, West Hollywood. (213) 848-3500.