'Save Me,' for all are redeemed together

Special to The Times

Since so many religions have condemned homosexuality for millenniums, it's no small accomplishment that the absorbing and wrenching "Save Me," written by Robert Desiderio from a story by Craig Chester and Alan Hines, views a dedicated homophobe with compassion and understanding. This is a modest, thoughtful, independent production of exceptional insight and quietly devastating power.

"This is a Christian recovery program speaking to sexual brokenness," explains Gayle (Judith Light), a woman of force and certitude, who with her wiser, less certain husband, Ted (Stephen Lang), runs in the rural Southwest a retreat for young gay men trying to go straight and to overcome any substance-abuse problems.

Gayle is speaking to Mark (Chad Allen), who has just come off an extended sex-and-drug orgy. Mark is skeptical and resistant but begins to respond to Gayle's strict but caring regimen. He also begins to form a friendship with Scott (Robert Gant), a husky, amiable guy who's been at the retreat five months.

Director Robert Cary could scarcely have gotten more out of his actors, working from a script that provides succinct yet revealing back stories for the film's five principals. Light is remarkable, with her Gayle emerging as a gifted spiritual substance-abuse healer who is tragically wrongheaded as an aversion therapist. Her costars are equally impressive, as is Robert Baker as a lonely overweight youth at once too intelligent and too vulnerable for such a regimented environment. "Save Me" is an impressive and important achievement in all aspects but one: It is weighed down -- but thankfully not sunk -- by a trite, insistent, syrupy score.

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"Save Me." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes. At the Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. (323) 848-3500.

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