Focus / Refocus

Breaking Glass Pictures / Raging Stallion Studios,

Tony DiMarco

Dan Rhodes

Cole Streets,
David Taylor,
Steve Cruz,
Bruno Bond,
Ryan Raz,
Ricky Sinz

Unrated, 77 minutes

Recycling Porn
by Michael D. Klemm
Posted online, March 2010

Over the years, I've dismissed more than a few movies as being nothing more than "porn with a plot." There's a new emerging genre in queer cinema that fits this description but this isn't necessarily a bad thing. After all, guilty pleasures come in many flavors and sometimes one just wants to be entertained without having to think. Focus / Refocus (2009) is a rather ambitious porn film from Raging Stallion Studios that is also a murder mystery. The naughtier bits have been removed for a (heavily) edited "retail version" and this DVD from Breaking Glass Pictures is the subject of my latest installment

As a rule, I don't watch many porn videos and thus I usually have no problems with gratuitous nudity and sex scenes in queer films. The night I watched Focus / Refocus, I just wanted to turn my brain off and this disc was just the ticket. Let me say first that, while it's hardly Hitchcock or Polanski, Focus / Refocus is actually a passable thriller. Yes, parts of it are cheesy but the bulk of it is stylishly, and professionally, filmed and scored. Porn films that do feature a plot have actually come a long way from the goofy 70s skin flicks parodied in Boogie Nights. This one evokes a modern noir atmosphere that can be enjoyed along with all the abundant beefcake.
The film opens with a framing story in which we meet our hero, Joe (Cole Streets). He is a hot, rugged, twenty-something sex addict. He has been arrested and he sits across the table from an older cop - think actor J.K. Simmons' twin - who keeps blowing cigarette smoke in his face. As far as interrogation room scenes go, it's not up there with Law & Order but it's better than Dragnet. It seems that Joe has been implicated in a series of murders and, faced with a hostile cop, he begins to tell his story.

At a Christmas party, Joe meets a handsome young man named Eddie (David Taylor). For the next ten minutes or so, we're actually treated to a cute courtship between the two hunks that is better executed than similar expository scenes in some independent movies I've screened. Then the plot clicks into gear. Our boys are having hot sex and Joe says he wants to film it. Eddie agrees as long as Joe promises that no one else will see the tape. Eddie leaves to go to work (he works as a projectionist at a gay porn theater) and Joe promptly posts the video on the internet.

Eddie is not happy when he discovers that their video is online and he refuses Joe's request to film another one. And so Joe picks up a stranger and films their clandestine sex. And posts it on the web too. Eddie is furious. When he goes home to confront Joe, he finds his lover masturbating to a video of his favorite porn star. Eddie blows his stack and angrily tells Joe it's over. Joe is about to run after Eddie but is distracted when his computer chimes and starts playing a porn video that was e-mailed to him. It's a threeway sex scene and the same porn star, Dario Stefano (Steve Cruz) is in it. Joe is clearly enslaved by his penis and watching Dario doing it with two other men is obviously more important than salvaging his relationship.

Somebody else in the video is familiar too. The front page of a newspaper, laying next to his computer, displays the face of a young gay man who was found murdered and this same guy is in the video. Joe actually snaps out of wanker mode for a few minutes to ponder this mystery. But before he can think about it much, he is invited to shoot an orgy at some rich gay man's house. Joe is stunned when Dario Stefano enters the room and joins in the festivities. Afterwards, Joe runs after Dario and tells him about the video. Dario is suddenly agitated. Turning cryptic and vague, he tells Joe that no one was supposed to see that video and implies that the amateur filmmaker's life is in danger.

Meanwhile, Joe doesn't realize (yet) that he is being followed by a rugged, forty-ish Sam Spade on testosterone (Bruno Bond) who is investigating the murder. When another man in the video turns up dead, Joe crashes a porn shoot to warn Dario that he might be next.

As far as mysteries and thrillers go, this is hardly The Maltese Falcon or Chinatown. But it's better than you would think and there's a great, lurid pulp fiction feel to the proceedings. The director has obviously seen The Third Man because a street chase is filmed entirely with tilted camera angles. I don't see any of these guys starring in an Arthur Miller play anytime soon but the acting is adequate. The music during the sex scenes is unobtrusive and makes the bedroom gymnastics feel less like porn. There aren't too many moments that induce groans and the dialogue isn't confined to monosyllables and grunts. I've seen many mediocre queer films over the years that were so unmemorable that you wished the more intimate interludes were longer so there was at least some reason to keep watching it. At the very least, Focus / Refocus delivers the goods on that score.

The original release was a five disc set and so there are hours of hardcore sex scenes deleted for the retail version (which is only 77 minutes long). The sex, that probably takes up at least a third of the running length, is explicit by most feature film standards but stops way before it crosses into hardcore. John Cameron Mitchell's Shortbus was far more explicit, and so were Todd Verow's Anonymous and Bulldog In The Whitehouse. There is, however, a lot of hot kissing in the sex scenes and all of the (mostly hairy) men are muscular hunks. Undoubtedly a fuck fest lasting five minutes in this version lasted at least a half hour in the original.

I'm not giving away the ending but the climax is interesting, even if it's a tad over the top. And a little disturbing too - if you consider that it was probably preceded by a long sex scene in the original version.

It's obvious at many turns that this was once a porn film but it is directed with enough skill to be at least on par with a late night cable thriller. Porn addicts like Joe exist and so the central theme is one worth exploring. It might not be the most penetrating psychological study of a sexual compulsive to ever hit the screen, but consider this. Many European queer films have taken us on dark sexual odysseys for decades. Look at Last Tango In Paris or In The Realm Of The Senses. American cinema isn't even close to catching up. There's a niche for films like this out there and even a cinema dweeb like me can only overdose on Fellini or Fassbinder for so long before his brain needs a rest. I wasn't looking for this to be Brokeback Mountain, and Focus / Refocus is a fun guilty pleasure.