"I never found love after you," Elisabeth Shue's perpetually negligee-clad Sonny tells the title character in the loopy film noir "Don McKay."
"Is that the truth?" McKay (Thomas Haden Church) asks hopefully.
"It can be if you want it to be," Sonny sweetly replies.
The truth constantly shifts in "Don McKay." Writer-director Jake Goldberger says he was inspired to write his debut feature after watching the theatrical rerelease of the Coen brothers' "Blood Simple," and his love for that film is borne out with the casting of M. Emmet Walsh as a half-deaf cab driver.
"McKay" never quite catches fire as a thriller and, truth be told, it's not much of a character study either, despite Church's best efforts to shed some light into his stone-faced schlub's arrested emotional development.
But taken as a goof on "Double Indemnity," the movie has its moments. Ex-girlfriend Sonny, dying of an unspecified illness, has asked McKay to return home after 25 years, wanting to spend the rest of her "short life" with him.
The lonely McKay happily accepts the offer, even if he has to contend with the withering stares from Sonny's trim-and-prim nursemaid (Melissa Leo). Complications cloud the reunion almost immediately, each revelation zanier than the one that came before.
Goldberger never quite settles into the right rhythm to pull off his ambitious, genre-hybrid debut, but his actors keep things interesting. Leo shows off her comic chops and the sexy Shue makes you understand why McKay might fall for her mischief, even as all evidence suggests he should cut this particular homecoming short.
-- Glenn Whipp "Don McKay." MPAA rating: R for language and some violence. Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes. In select theaters.
'Just Say Love' stands out
Of the three gay films from Regent Releasing opening Friday at the Sunset 5, "Just Say Love" is decidedly the best.
"Just Say Love": In this poignant and humorous film, Doug (Robert Mammana), a hunky, uncouth carpenter on a lunch break, propositions Guy (Matthew Jaeger), a prissy artist, for a quickie. After some verbal skirmishing, Guy agrees and an intermittent just-for-sex relationship ensues. Guy swiftly falls for Doug, an avowed heterosexual who lives with his girlfriend.
Director Bill Humphreys has filmed New England playwright David J. Mauriello's adaptation of his two-character play almost entirely on stage sets with such aplomb that "Just Say Love" is actually more cinematic than some plays that have been expensively "opened up" for the screen. Jaeger and Mammana couldn't be better as they reveal that these two men, who move way beyond their stereotypical first impressions, affect each other in ways neither could have anticipated. That "Just Say Love" overplays its ending luckily doesn't spoil it.
"Manuela and Manuel": With "Manuela and Manuel," writer Jose Ignacio Valenzuela has created a variation on "La Cage Aux Folles" that is hardly in the same league with the original, yet is a lively, lowbrow screwball farce. Raul Marchand's confident direction and a solid cast give its mix of extreme broad humor and shameless heart-tugging their all. In this Puerto Rican production, Humberto Busto is fearless in playing the star of a drag revue whose longtime lover has just left him, and his best friend (Elena Iguina), left pregnant after a one-night stand, presses him to play straight and pose as her fiancé to her conservative parents.
"Dream Boy": That a rural Southern community would be steeped in religion and homophobia is entirely credible, but the awkwardly contrived, dreary "Dream Boy," written and directed by James Bolton from Jim Grimsley's novel, doesn't explore the consequences of this conflation persuasively. A shy, studious gay teenager (Stephen Bender), newly arrived in the Louisiana backwoods, doesn't stand a chance, caught between a bullying, fanatically religious father (Thomas Jay Ryan) and a seductive, reckless neighbor boy (Max Roeg). Filled with under-developed characters, the film dwells on teen lust and then lurches into Southern Gothic horror, disastrously.
-- Kevin Thomas "Just Say Love." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes. "Manuela and Manuel." MPAA rating: PG-13 for thematic elements involving sexuality and language. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes. "Dream Boy." MPAA rating: R for sexual content and some violence, including a rape, involving teens. Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes. All at the Sunset 5, West Hollywood.