Eric D. Snider

Testosterone

Gay novelist James Robert Baker wrote "Testosterone," which I have not read but which is apparently a dark, gritty, "you gave me HIV and dumped me so now I'm going to kill you" sort of book. (You know the type.) For reasons I can't even imagine, gay film director David Moreton has taken the HIV element out of the story (which he adapted for the screen with Dennis Hensley), kept some of the other darkness -- but directed it to feel like a whimsical little romance-mystery. The tone is so at odds with the material that you'd be tempted to think it was done intentionally, if it weren't for the more obvious and correct explanation that Moreton just doesn't know what he's doing.

Our hero is Dean (David Sutcliffe), a successful graphic-novel artist in Los Angeles whose Argentine boyfriend Pablo (Antonio Sabato Jr.) has just left him. Dean learns through Pablo's wealthy, frigid mother (Sonia Braga), whom he runs into an art show, that he has gone back to Buenos Aires. So, without any forethought or consideration, Dean hops a plane to Argentina and shows up at Pablo's house, whereupon Pablo's madre (who must have been on the same flight as Dean to make it back there that fast) calls the policia. Apart from checking into a hotel, which he manages without incident, Dean seems to have no plan whatsoever.

He meets an odd, flirtatious guy named Marcos (Leonardo Brzezicki), who turns out to be a childhood friend and lover of Pablo's but who claims not to know Pablo's current whereabouts. Even more tight-lipped is Sofia (Celina Font), a gorgeous café waitress who also has ties to Pablo. She claims to be helping Dean, but she also seems to be putting the moves on him, which is as fruitless an endeavor as it sounds like it would be.

Somewhere along the way, we get the impression Marcos is supposed to kill Dean, but we don't know why, and he has too much of a crush on him to go through with it anyway. Subsequent events are, at least on paper, surprising and/or intriguing, but Moreton directs them as if he were directing something innocuous. A character's suicide is given no more attention, in terms of camera angles, musical score and the other characters' reactions, than if the character had merely dropped his toast on the floor. Ditto all the material in the final act: an alarming turn of events in Sofia's romantic life, an apparent murder, the aftermath of that apparent murder – everything's either only hinted at vaguely, or else it's shown expressly but in a dispassionate, careless manner. Even without the HIV business, I bet the screenplay reads like a noir-ish suspense-thriller. On screen, it looks like a droll gay romance. This is wrong.

Dean's character undergoes a curious arc that is underdeveloped in the writing and in David Sutcliffe's rather ordinary performance. At some point, he goes from simply wanting "closure" to wanting revenge, but I have no idea when, how or why that happens. Marcos' and Sofia's motivations are not given sufficient attention, either. The film's major objective appears to be showing cute men doing suggestive (and occasionally downright dirty) things. To that end, I suppose it is a success, although if that's your thing, why not just look at pictures? Why ruin it with a story?

Grade: C

Rated R, a smattering of harsh profanity, some strong sexuality, a little nudity

1 hr., 45 min.

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