Writer-director Nancy Kissam has said that her alternately blithe and darkly comic "Drool," her first feature, would be "a John Waters-esque campy revenge comedy" only to discover her characters weren't as vapid as she thought. She's right because, as bizarre as her plot is, her people seem real in their reactions to their lives' escalating absurdities. She's not yet as able to shape a film or to shift tones as effectively as her actors, but even though "Drool" rambles and ultimately slides into overly obvious make-believe, Kissam emerges as a fearless risk-taker of promise.
The Fleeces of a small Oklahoma town are mired in misery. The father (Oded Fehr), a wife-beating, racist, male-chauvinist pig, is a factory worker in nearby Tulsa who submits to humiliating demands to hold on to his job. His bright 15-year-old daughter (Ashley Duggan Smith) believes she must grant sexual favors to be accepted, and her 13-year-old brother (Christopher Newhouse) is a racist. The dutiful wife and mom, Anora (Laura Harring), lives in fear of her husband.
But a new next-door neighbor, a free-spirited, glamorous cosmetics saleswoman, Imogene (vivacious Jill Marie Jones), is about to turn Anora's life upside down. That the two women develop a mutual attraction and that Imogene is African American make for a precarious situation for Anora and her family, to say the least. Ultimately, "Drool" turns into a road movie in which mother and children start to evolve persuasively, yet along the way it loses touch with reality. It's a movie of amusing parts rather than a satisfying whole.
-- Kevin Thomas "Drool." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes. At the Sunset 5, West Hollywood.
'Life' is absorbing redemption story
The teen drama "To Save a Life," nicely directed by Brian Baugh from a script by Jim Britts, manages to be appealing, poignant and inspiring in ways that are gentle and quite real. This smartly calibrated film also pulls off something rare by presenting religious commitment as something that's not only potentially healing and elevating, but also kind of cool. That's because the film's God-following teens are largely attractive, progressive types, self-aware kids dealing with a convincing array of social and personal issues.
This is especially true of golden boy Jake Taylor (a winning Randy Wayne), a high school basketball star searching for redemption after Roger (Robert Bailey Jr.), the childhood pal he selfishly left behind, unexpectedly commits suicide. With the help of an affable youth pastor (Joshua Weigel) and an embracing group of new, churchgoing friends, Jake begins to deal with his guilt and break away from unproductive behaviors and relationships. Among the latter is longtime girlfriend Amy (Deja Kreutzberg), a mean girl-lite with some serious growing up to do.
Though the movie takes too long to bring Jake's life-changing journey full circle and ties up its various strands with some predictable bows, this is a deftly acted, generally absorbing cautionary tale with wider allure than its faith-based label may imply.
-- Gary Goldstein "To Save a Life." MPAA rating: PG-13 for mature thematic elements involving teen suicide, teen drinking, some drug content, disturbing images and sexuality. Running time: 2 hours. In general release.
3 gay-themed films run gamut
By far the best of three gay-themed films from Regent Releasing that open today in regular runs on separate screens at the Sunset 5 is "Watercolors," David Oliveras' wrenching tale of first love. Tall, rangy Kyle Clare makes an indelible impression as deeply troubled, sexually confused high school swim team standout Carter Melman, who dreams of an athletic championship. Carter is drawn to brainy Danny (Tye Olson), a gifted artist and object of chronic campus homophobia, who swiftly falls in love with Carter. Olson is splendid too, as is the rest of the cast, which includes Jeffrey Lee Woods as Carter's well-meaning but killjoy father, a shaky 60 days from his last drink; Casey Kramer as Olson's staunch, loving mother, and especially an always- distinctive Karen Black as Olson's supportive but tough-minded art teacher. Olympic champion Greg Louganis is not surprisingly perfectly cast as Carter's no-nonsense swimming coach.
This is a graceful film that shows how people apply increasing pressure on Carter without perceiving his underlying distress and instability.
"Murder in Fashion," written by Linda Boroff and directed by Ben Waller, is a straightforward, well-paced, resourcefully made account of handsome but crazed Andrew Cunanan's 1997 serial killing spree that culminated with his fatal shooting of Gianni Versace in Miami Beach. Cunanan had long been obsessed with Versace, dreaming of becoming a model or even a lover of the famed designer.
Jonathon Trent's alternately charismatic and monstrous Cunanan is convincingly the ultimate hustler from hell, and James C. Burns as a shrewd, seasoned FBI agent whose insight is tragically dismissed also stands out. Back story on Cunanan is scant; the filmmakers focus on depicting the FBI as incompetent and homophobic.
Ron Satlof's "Misconceptions" is a polished comedy with a dauntingly improbable premise. A.J. Cook's Miranda Bliss is a devout small-town Georgia Christian whose small son died five years earlier of a rare disease, and her husband (David Sutcliffe) remains too grief-stricken to want to father another child.
When Miranda learns that a Boston doctor (David Moscow) is intensively seeking a cure for the disease that killed her son, she believes through prayer God is telling her to become a surrogate mother for the doctor and his choreographer husband (Orlando Jones, who has a terrific comic flair), who so desperately want a child.
Satlof's familiar point is to show that the more religious conservatives get to know gays the less they tend to demonize them, but "Misconceptions" is too outlandish and contrived to satisfy.
-- Kevin Thomas "Watercolors." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 54 minutes. "Murder in Fashion." MPAA rating: R for violence, language, some sexual content and drug use. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes. "Misconceptions." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes. All at the Sunset 5, West Hollywood.