If Lie Down With Dogs, the first feature film by Wally White, were a child, it would need therapy for hyperactivity. The movie tries anything and everything to attract attention. It makes a lot of noise, fastens admiringly on the bright baubles of a certain stratum of gay life, and is sufficiently unsure of its worth to never risk slowing down. Dogs rides an ecstatic current of youthful energy, but despite all the breathless visual acrobatics and a thumping soundtrack, the ride leads nowhere. The movie ends where it begins.
White serves as general impresario of Dogs. He not only wrote, directed, and hustled up the money to produce the movie, he also stars in it -- which makes sense, because the film feels nakedly autobiographical. White plays a young New Yorker named Tommie. He continually adds his gloss to the movie's action through asides spoken directly into the camera, as if in a play.
The direct address to the audience is but one of the many film-school gimmicks White exuberantly deploys to propel his small story. From moment to moment, the film might resemble a music video or a commercial for cross-training shoes or a light comedy from the 1940s. One scene is shot in black and white, with the camera moving ceaselessly around a table at which three bitchy young men are seated; another is nothing more than White's large, square head surrounded by a multicolored assortment of revolving neon penises.
These flourishes of technique do not comfortably square with the movie's narrative slightness. The story is a sassy retelling of a classic grade-school theme: what I did on my summer vacation. As Dogs begins, Tommie works in Manhattan at the thankless task of leafletting a hostile public. It is hot and miserable, and everyone who has enough money has fled the city for the beach.
Tommie hasn't got much money, but he does have two friends who have a Jeep and are driving up to Provincetown, the gay enclave at the tip of Cape Cod. He bums a ride with them, after first making sure that he has some credit left on a charge card or two.
P-town, that quaint old fishing village, is hopping with flirty boys, and Tommie spends his first minutes in a public square being cruised left and right. The erotic energy briefly distracts him from the practical difficulties at hand: He has nowhere to stay and no livelihood.
If you are young and attractive and destitute, the thing to be in summertime Provincetown is a houseboy. Easier said than done: Tommie is a Johnny-come-lately, and all the best houseboy gigs, he is told, were filled by Memorial Day. In a round of desperate interviews, he barely escapes the clutches of one foul queen and quits after spending a single night in the dungeonlike basement of another.
But no matter. Provincetown is a resort, and jobs don't count. Jobs -- and careers -- are for the city. In P-town, only love matters, and Tommie promptly falls in love with a boy named Tom (Randy Becker, whose big dick was such a hit in Terrence McNally's play Love! Valour! Compassion! that The New Yorker published a story about audience reaction to it), whom he meets at a party.
Tom, with his short black hair, olive skin, and finely cut features, is the picture of Mediterranean loveliness. He's also a manipulative asshole and a practitioner of enthusiastic but bad sex.
Luckily the town is swimming with other possibilities. There's Chris (Ken Bonnin), for one, the boyishly preppy waiter who brings Tommie his orange juice every morning. They go to bed, but nothing much comes of it. And there's Ben (Darren Dryden), a friendly bicyclist who's nonetheless widely written off as an attitude queen because no one can imagine anyone so handsome not being snotty. When Ben casually says good morning to Tommie, the world nearly stops turning on its axis while the meaning of this small pleasantry is weighed.
Tommie pretends not to be too interested in Ben, whom he claims to find not all that attractive. Besides, he must tread lightly with the explosive Tom, who doesn't deal well with rejection and throws a scene after an unsuccessful attempt to bum a cigarette from Tommie. At last they break up, and Tommie, riding his bike among the dunes, runs into Ben. In a setting free of prying eyes and dishy banter, the two make the movie's only real connection -- but it turns out that Ben already has a boyfriend.
Lie Down With Dogs is often very funny, and it moves too swiftly ever to be boring, but it lacks the edge that might have made it something special. Most of the time, the movie seems like a television sitcom gone queer. Its observations about gay life are often amusingly accurate, but they are not acute enough, or pursued with enough rigor, to qualify as genuine satire. The general tone of Dog's cleverness is that of a 12-year-old boy making faces for a wedding photographer -- cute in a silly way, cautiously irreverent, but not very memorable.
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