TRICK

Directed by Jim Fall

If any naysayers still doubt that gay films have cross-gender appeal or still believe gay topics encompass only outing, AIDS and other hard-core political issues, director/producer Jim Fall has a Trick certain to prove otherwise. Breezily and unselfconsciously adapting the romantic-comedy formula, scriptwriter Jason Schafer gives this male-male version a nice twist. In the classic screwball genre, a man and a woman, clearly meant for each other, battle until they can't avoid the inevitable union. By contrast, Trick's Gabriel (Christian Campbell) and Mark (John Paul Pitoc) want to get together but must endure, instead, a night of frustrated sexual longing in Manhattan's West Village amid suggestive dancing, heterosexual promiscuity and bold innuendoes. Trick wisely keeps Gabriel and Mark the calm at the center of the sexual storm raging around them, making their palpable yearning and erotic glances a promise of gratification neither can deliver.

Young, ambitious musical-theater composer/playwright Gabriel lacks edge, craves inspiration and needs experience. His latest song, "Enter You," performed with much more gusto than talent by longtime friend Katherine (Tori Spelling), reveals Gabriel's counterfeit emotions to his writing workshop. Taking the advice of supportive mentor Perry (Steve Hayes), Gabriel heads for a Village cruise bar where go-go boy Mark dances provocatively and irresistibly in a red thong. After an awkward subway encounter, Gabriel and Mark spend the rest of the night trying, with increasing frustration and desperation, to find a quiet place, alone, where they can have sex.

They deal with a succession of problems. Rich (Brad Beyer), Gabriel's lecherous roommate, takes over their apartment to ravish yet another girlfriend. Gabriel's buddy Katherine (a gutsy self-mockery by Spelling) camps out in his apartment running hundreds of resumes. And Gabriel must endure the hateful invectives of drag queen Coco Peru (Clinton Leupp) against love-'em-and-leave-'em Mark.

John Paul Pitoc, Christian Campbell and Tori Spelling in Trick, a gay take on the romantic comedy
John Paul Pitoc, Christian Campbell and Tori Spelling in Trick, a gay take on the romantic comedy

Never mind the usual heavy-handed plot machinations. In any erotic seduction, as long as the couple has chemistry and appeal, we'll root for them to unite whatever contrived obstacles arise. Gabriel's endearing vulnerability and Mark's erotic charge ignite a credible attraction and forgivable clumsiness between them. It also makes them much more likable than the characters who interfere with and postpone their sexual pleasure. But a funny thing happens on their way to bed — or the piano, as Gabriel prefers. He and Mark move beyond facades, begin to know each other and to feel something more than lust.

Though never brilliant, Trick includes some hilarious lines during its tour of actual Village locations. And it has a joie de vivre, a thoroughly refreshing lack of pretension and satisfactory performances in the main roles by cute Campbell (yes, Neve's brother) and hunky Pitoc. Several scenes and characters play more strident than necessary, and the production values aren't always first rate. There will be better work from all involved here, but Trick is a delicious tease.

Opens Aug. 20 at the Tivoli; a benefit screening for the St. Louis International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival is held at 7 p.m. Aug. 19.

 
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