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Knight at the Movies: Hate Crime, Poseidon
by Richard Knight, Jr.
2006-05-10

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At the start of Hate Crime, the exciting debut from out writer-director-producer Tommy Stovall, the handsome, dark-haired Robbie ( Seth Peterson ) and his blonde partner Trey ( Brian J. Smith, in his screen debut ) have been together for six years. They seem to have it all-they're classic examples of a Guppie couple with good jobs, a healthy love life, and their share of problems. The couple live on one of those nice, tree-shaded suburban streets near a park convenient for nightly walks with their dog Phoebe, and are especially close with one of their neighbors, the feisty-funny Kathleen ( Lin Shaye ) .

Things change almost immediately, however, when the hulking ( but hunky ) Chris ( Chad Donella ) moves in next door. From the moment he figures out that his new neighbors are gay he seems to seethe with hatred. Chris' homophobia is quickly reinforced when it's revealed that he's the son of a stern, fundamentalist preacher, Jerry ( Bruce Davison ) who shares his views. Things escalate during a chance encounter between Robbie and Chris, who spews out the usual vile 'you're going to hell faggot, read your Bible, watch your back' nonsense. Not long after, during Phoebe's nightly walk, Trey is attacked in the park and dies.

Naturally, Robbie implicates Chris, who has a seemingly airtight alibi provided by his protective but suspicious mother ( Susan Blakely ) . The police chief prefers Robbie as a suspect ( though a female officer isn't so sure ) and doesn't seem in any hurry to find the murderer. Robbie's grief now turned to rage, he determines to mete out justice to the real killer and the picture moves from a moving drama to a gripping thriller, very much in the style of In the Bedroom.

The insidiousness of hate crimes inflicted on the GLBT community are dealt with in very human terms in Stovall's movie. His script resonates with small but telling details about the normalcy of the gay couple while contrasting it with the resentment and bigotry in the attitudes of the rigid but supposedly 'loving' religious conservatives with their indifference to hate rhetoric and quick resort to violence that exists in such intolerance.

The director is also helped by his cinematographer Ian Ellis, an evocative but unobtrusive music score by Ebony Tay, and especially by an expert cast of familiar faces beginning with Peterson ( from TV's Providence ) , whose affable charm is believably turned into helpless rage. Davison, the soul of compassion 16 years ago ( and Oscar-nominated ) in the gay-themed Longtime Companion, and familiar for Hollywood's repeated use of him as a villain, plays another one here, yet manages to give the character a few shadings. Shaye and Pickett as Trey's shattered mother are both compelling as well.

Stovall's assured and very entertaining picture has been making the rounds of the GLBT festival circuit the last year and winning a lot of well-deserved praise. The film opens a one-week run at the Landmark Century Centre Cinema ( 2828 N. Clark ) beginning with a benefit screening for the Gay Liberation Network May 11 at 7 p.m. Peterson, Stovall and Tay ( who will perform a short set ) , will be in attendance. A Q&A with audience members follows the screening. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased in advance at Landmark's box office, at Specialty Video ( 3221 N. Broadway or 5307 N. Clark ) or by phoning 773-509-4949. See www.landmarktheatres.com .

_____

Everything about Poseidon, the remake of a certain 1972 junk-food disaster movie that stands at the summit of Mt. Camp, is sleeker, bigger, crisper and brighter than the original. Beginning with the ship itself—instead of a couple of decks, we have six or seven, as our zippy little prologue shows us in quick detail. There's no Christmas tree in the ballroom to climb after the rogue wave hits, but there are gigantic chandeliers aplenty ( rented from the warehouse that stores all the Phantom of the Opera leftovers? ) —and lots more besides. 'Boy is this gonna be fun when it flips!' I thought to myself in giddy anticipation, and it certainly is. In this version we get to see all those levels going topsy-turvy, a flash fire take out half the crew, drownings galore, and the passengers tumbling head over heels on every deck. But without many characters to focus on before or during this expert moment of special effects, it has the effect of happening in a vacuum. One appreciates the accomplishment, but it doesn't resonate.

Unlike its progenitor, there's no Red Buttons as a nebbish haberdasher, no cleavage-baring, tough-talking Stella Stevens bickering with Ernest Borgnine in his pink tuxedo shirt, no hot-pants-wearing Carol Lynley warbling 'there's got to be a morning after,' and saddest, no corpulent Shelley Winters complaining, 'A fat lady can't climb.' There are still junky characters galore—headed by the suave Paul Newman look-a-like Josh Lucas as a professional gambler—enough to satisfy every moviegoers' taste—including Richard Dreyfuss ( returning to open seas 30 years after Jaws ) as a gay Jew who wears a big diamond stud in his ear and exclaims 'Oy!' when he sees the rogue wave a comin'.

There is also, I am happy to report, plenty of dumb dumb dialogue ( Immigrant stowaway to young ingénue: I feel like I know your dad. Young ingénue: He was mayor of New York for a while when I was a kid. Immigrant stowaway: Cool ) . But this Poseidon doesn't waste much time on tinny asides or character back story, front story or in-between story. This is a Wolfgang ( Airforce One, The Perfect Storm, Troy ) Peterson movie where action reigns supreme and pacing is all. He does not dawdle and one reaches the end of the line much faster than all those decks—and the expected twists and turns—would have predicted. Though this Poseidon is a quick, fun start to the summer movie action regatta, it does not seem as likely a bet for camp enshrinement that its predecessor has become 30 years on. Nor is it likely to inspire parody musicals like the brilliant one that David Cerda penned for Hand Bag Productions a few years back.

But who knows? When I sat in back of the theater in 1972 ( in the smoking section! ) and watched The Poseidon Adventure for the first time, there was nothing funny or campy about it either. That only came years later—a lot of 'morning afters' later.

Check out my archived reviews at www.windycitytimes.com or www.knightatthemovies.com Feedback can be left at the latter Web site.


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