When you spot a credit for a "Mouse and Roach Wrangler," you know you're watching a film about the squalid heart and soul of New York City.
Viewers nostalgic for Manhattan may enjoy some of the hometown touches in "Broadway Damage"--like desperate apartment hunters who consult the obituary pages to get a jump on the latest vacancies. For those not suffering withdrawal pangs for the Big Apple, however, the rewards of this film are few.
The major characters, as well as the downtown milieu in Victor Mignatti's debut feature, are mostly gay. But that doesn't turn out to be much of a novelty; not when the movie recycles narrative conventions that would be sappy in any heteromance.
Marc (Michael Shawn Lucas) is a model-handsome aspiring actor with lofty romantic aspirations: only a "perfect 10" will do. His misplaced priorities lead him into an unsuitable alliance with an apparent paragon, an exotically gorgeous glop-rock musician (Hugh Panaro), who turns out to be an amoral manipulator, an instinctive emotional con artist who really seems to believe the endearments he whispers into ear after ear. (His major musical number, "Window Pane of Love," all pumped-up fake emotion, should have been the giveaway.)
Meanwhile, Marc's non-paragon best friend, Robert (Aaron Williams), a sad sack songwriter chasing a musical-theater career, loiters morosely in the wings, tinkling the ivories and waiting for Marc to smarten up.
The conclusion is foregone, for the audience if not for any of the characters. This is, after all, the plot line that time forgot. Recent examples include the 1987 John Hughes production "Some Kind of Wonderful" (Eric Stoltz pining for Lea Thompson and overlooking Mary Stuart Masterson) and last year's hit "My Best Friend's Wedding," which strained credulity to the breaking point by casting Julia Roberts in the neglected-buddy part. You can't help thinking that if Marc and Robert had only gone to the movies more often they could have sidestepped all this heartache.
There are a few disarmingly outre touches. Marc shares his picturesque Greenwich Village walk-up with Cynthia (Mara Hobel), a shriekingly neurotic rich girl, straight and overweight, who pursues her dream job at Vanity Fair with the scary persistence of a stalker. As a child actor, Hobel played the young Christina Crawford in "Mommie Dearest"; as an adult, turned out in a series of garish chic suits and pterodactyl hats, she's a dead ringer for a very different sort of gay icon, the late great drag superstar Divine.
This is not Hobel's fault, of course; in fact, she seems to be a dauntless and high-spirited performer. It's Mignatti who turned the movie's only major female character into a gargoyle. He's the director, writer and editor of record, so he has no one else to pin it on.
* Unrated. Times guidelines: Some frank language and a couple of moderately graphic lovemaking scenes, both gay and straight.
Mara Hobel: Cynthia
Michael Shawn Lucas: Marc
Hugh Panaro: David
Aaron Williams: Robert
A Jour de Fete Films presentation of a Village Art Pictures production. Director-writer-editor Victor Mignatti. Producer David Topple. Assistant producers Bruce Lang, Keith Lewis, Paul Scoles. Director of photography Michael Mayers. Costume designer Jill Kliber. Music Elliot Sokolov. Original songs by Cindy Soltoff, Gabriel; Zenone and Ken Dhal. Production designer Dina Goldman. Mouse and roach wrangler Evan Fieg. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.
* Exclusively at Laemmle's Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (213) 848-3500.