GAY FILM REVIEWS BY MICHAEL D. KLEMM
Rated R, 105 minutes
"I'm just a faggot with a gun who needs a chainsaw."
Sexual obsession can be a dangerous thing. Just ask Dean (David Sutcliffe), a published artist/author of gay-themed graphic novels. He is the hero of Testosterone - a new film from David Moreton, the director of Edge of Seventeen. He is smitten with his new Latin boyfriend Pablo Alesandro (Antonio Sabato, Jr.). One night, Pablo caps their affair of unbridled passion and spectacular sex by going out for cigarettes and never returning. Dean's hormones are in overdrive and he is obsessed with finding his lost lover, risking his career in the process.
His desperate search leads him to Argentina. He discovers that Pablo is the scion of a very wealthy and powerful family. Ruling the roost is a stern Mother who could be a distant cousin of the Matriarch from Federico Lorcas' The House of Bernada Alba. "He's done with you!" she snarls at Dean and slams the door in his face. Dean soon finds himself on the run from the police, Mrs. Alesandro's goon squad, and a handsome admirer named Marco who has been sent to kill him but falls in love with him instead.
At first, Dean is a very likable hero. The fact that he isn't Sylvestor Stallone, firmly in control and kicking butt, is one of Testosterone's initial charms. He is prone to fits of anger, but he is also a complete dork who is in over his head. Much of the film is reminiscent of a comic Hitchcock thriller, like North by Northwest or To Catch A Thief. Dean is adrift in a strange land, unable to speak the language, and helpless against unbeatable odds. Testosterone is very entertaining for the first act, and then it takes a left turn at Alburquerque into incoherence and silliness, climaxing with an ending more suited to a Quentin Tarantino film. This is unfortunate because Testosterone had myriad possibilities as both a noir-ish thriller or as a black comedy about what happens when a man is controlled by his hormones.
If only the film's script lived up to its premise. While it is sexy, and it tries to be smart, the filmmakers constantly take the wrong road. Dean and Pablo's hot steamy relationship is distilled into a series of cartoon panels during the credits, thus depriving the audience of seeing their romance (aside from a few flashbacks). Dean's obsession might have resonated had we been allowed to experience their passion. Instead, the audience is left wondering what all the fuss is about. When they finally meet again - well, don't expect anything like the ultimate meeting between Joseph Cotton and Orson Welles in The Third Man. In between, the plot becomes too convoluted, with way too many coincidences. When Dean finally snaps, and becomes hell-bent on revenge, the film unravels. A twist involving a machete was just too much.
A film should stand on its own but I wondered what the original book, by the late James Robert Baker, was like. Based on the online summary and commentaries that I read, many liberties were taken with the source material. The book is described as being the narrative of a raving lunatic. Apparently it is difficult to ascertain from the narrator's interior monologues what is real and what is delusion. A literal translation of the book might have resulted in a filmed nightmare like John Shear's outstanding Urbania. From the cut scenes on the DVD, it appears that an edgier drama was the original plan and perhaps the ending - retained from the book - wouldn't have seemed so out of place. Perhaps the idea was to turn Testosterone into a black comedy (it didn't work) and this is a perfect example of filmmakers taking the easy road when adapting a difficult book to the screen.
On the other hand, everything about the film's production is top notch. The cinematography is lush and very European, many images reminiscent of Bertolucci and Truffaut. The background score is a delightful mix of minimalist piano ala Eric Satie with a touch of salsa; a nice change from the usual techno music. David Sutcliffe has a lot of charisma as Dean. Unshaven and hairy, he is a far cry from the buff twinks seen in most gay films. Sonia Braga (Kiss of the Spider Woman) is wonderfully bitchy as Pablo's Mother. All of the acting is very good, with the exception of Sabato, whom the video box features as if he were the star of the film when he actually appears for perhaps only ten minutes. His exaggerated accent is annoying and makes Ricardo Montalban sound like he came from the Bronx.
Though the end result is very mixed, I applaud everyone involved for attempting to do something different. I loved the first half; Testosterone has flashes of brilliance, but the parts do not connect to a coherent whole. Still, I found the film to be a welcome change from the usual coming out and Generation X movies that make up most of current queer cinema. One thing I can't say about Testosterone is "been there done that."
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