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Review: Slight passion in 'Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss'

Web posted on: Monday, August 03, 1998 5:16:36 PM

From Reviewer Paul Tatara

(CNN) -- Sometimes you come across a movie that almost makes it, but not quite, and (considering how much incontrovertible junk I have to sit through) that really stinks. You root for it the whole time you're watching, but various pieces of the puzzle eventually start wrestling each other for control of your attentions. And that can get distracting.

Maybe there are a few good performances, but there's no plot to speak of. Then again, maybe it's densely plotted, but a bunch of schmuck actors are ruining your fun. "Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss" is an odd case, though. There are several very winning performances, a couple of nice laughs, and one sequence that's almost heart-breakingly honest, but somehow these elements never generate the proper amount of steam. And, try as I might, I can't tell you exactly why.

Clip- "I've never been so miserable": 2.1Mb QuickTime
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Gay and romantic

Sean P. Hayes plays Billy Collier, a cheerful, Polaroid-loving photographer who happens to be homosexual. In the very funny pre-credit sequence, a series of Billy's Polaroids flash on the screen while he explains to us in voice-over the difference between being gay in Indiana (where he grew up) and being gay in Los Angeles (where he currently resides).

He points out that, contrary to popular belief, not all gay people are having sex all the time. He, for instance, is a romantic, and is looking for someone to fully share his life with him. Empty-headed carnal playmates need not apply.

Then, while the credits roll, there's an equally hilarious dance sequence featuring a trio of rather untalented drag queens, none of whom, from where I was sitting, looked Republican.

Possible love interest

That's a great start -- and don't get me wrong, the movie never really gets annoying -- but I felt a little too much space in a lot of what followed, almost a sense of dead air. One day Billy and his best friend, a straight woman named George (played by the extremely funny, early-Streisand-ish Meredith Scott Lynn), ogle a handsome young coffee shop waiter named Gabriel (Brad Rowe).

Billy doesn't know if the guy is gay, but he's definitely attracted to him and wouldn't mind using him in a series of photos he plans on taking. The photographs, to be entitled "Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss," will inject a bit of "gay power" into moments from the wildly romantic movies that Billy grew up loving. Gabriel agrees to pose for Billy, and the rest of the movie is spent building up sexual tension between the two men, or maybe not, since Gabriel purports to have a girlfriend back home.

I wish I could say there's more to it than that, but there really isn't. Again, it's a shame, because O'Haver is an almost casually talented director. He tosses off a handful of small scenes concerning the sexual proclivities of gays and straights (separately, and in relation to each other) that are 10 times more enlightening than anything to be found in the somewhat similar "Chasing Amy." I'm still taking heat for not appreciating that particular film, so it's great to see the topic now being dealt with by a clever director with an interesting sense of cinematic style.

Confronted with jealousy

Billy eventually starts getting jealous (personally, and maybe even professionally) when Gabriel is recruited by a famous, lecherous photographer played by Paul Bartel. Billy follows the object of his desires out to Catalina, where he's doing his first big-time photo shoot, and the chips eventually fall where they may. Or the cookie crumbles, depending on how you want to look at it.

O'Haver and his cinematographer, Mark Mervis, give their images a sunny, Technicolor sheen. I think the idea is to duplicate the quality of those romantic movies that Billy loves so much, but there are times when this approach overpowers what's going on. The movie's plot is rather small, though that's not to be confused with small-minded, and the glossy look has a tendency to accentuate that smallness.

The best scene (and it's one of the better things I've seen this year) is when we once again are shown a series of Polaroids. While we watch, Billy tells us about his admission to his friend, as an 11-year-old, that he prefers pictures of naked men to those of naked women.

The writing (and the way Hayes plays it) is gentle and it's not altogether obvious where the scene is heading. Hayes gets to the heart of the matter, but there are multiple layers of courage and sadness that never come into play during the rest of the film. If they can maintain this level of ambiguity in their later work, and pick up the pace quite a bit, the people behind this one might have a hit on their hands next time out.

"Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss" contains some bad language, a quick flash of a male behind, and a couple instances of men nuzzling up to each other in bed. I wouldn't call out the National Guard, but it's pretty obvious that not everyone feels that way. Rated R. 89 minutes.

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