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Friday, April 28, 2017

David Moreton | Testosterone


perverse nonsense
by Douglas Messerli

Dennis Hensley (screenplay, based on the novel by James Robert Baker), David Moreton (director) Testosterone / 2003

I rather liked David Moreton’s first film, Edge of Seventeen, a work about a young high school teen coming to terms with his gay sexuality at a difficult time for anyone, made even more problematic when you have hardly any control over your private life.
     On the basis of that movie, I determined to see Moreton’s more recent works, and ordered up his 2003 film, Testosterone from Netflix. I’m sorry to report that it was a big mistake. 
     I suppose the first few moments of the film, particularly given Marco D’Ambrosio’s charming, tango-inspired score—which continues to enchant throughout the film—and the cartoon drawings that provide us with the main character’s back story might be described as rather engaging. It might have worked better to actually get to know the flesh-and-blood characters before the work teetered off into a Grand Guignol comedy, but since the central character, Dean Seagrave (David Sutcliffe) is a successful graphic book artist, author of I was a Teenage Speed Freak, at least the credits made sense. 
      That fact, however, might have alerted me that this 30-some year old, living in Los Angeles, was not exactly the brightest bulb in the universe. To give him credit, he does very much love his gay lover, Pablo Alesandro (Antonio Sabato, Jr.), and evidently has been in a monogamous relationship since the two met. Indeed, we quickly discover Dean is obsessed with Pablo, although we never do perceive what this intense love is really about—which is made even more mysterious by the fact that Sabato’s face is hardly ever again flashed across the screen; perhaps Moreton chose that option over letting the heavily-accented former model try to act.

     Besides, already by the first scene of the film, we discover that Dean’s passionate and devoted companion has simply walked away from their relationship, disappearing on his way to get some cigarettes. And in this same first scene, at an art gallery displaying the same kind of graphic work that Dean does, we begin to suspect our “hero” is truly is a jerk. Crying on the shoulder of his less than attentive agent (Jennifer Coolidge), Dean mostly throws out glib one-liners, particularly after he spots Pablo’s mother (Sonia Braga) among the attendees (why a wealthy Argentine woman would be attending such a trashy show is never explained).
     Before you can even say “gorgon,” the creature which the beautiful Pablo’s mean-spirited mother most represents, Dean has man-handled her and offended the gallery’s art-dealer to whom his agent has long been attempting to introduce to her client. Already I knew something about Dean and this film as amiss.
     And before you could say “What’s wrong with this picture?” you discover, as the evidently rich-boy Angelino hops a plane for Argentina, knocks on the wealthy Alesandro’s door to be once again brushed like a flea by the monstrous momma, and is almost arrested by the police.

     Lonely and completely alienated, this poor lover boy mopes through the streets of Buenos Aires without knowing, so it appears a single word of Spanish. How he has managed to live with Pablo for such a long time without even acquiring a single word of Spanish is never explained. He needs a horny gay bellboy to translate the message on the Alesandro answering service clearly reporting that no one is at home. Dean does manage to convey to the same bellboy that he’d like some pot, which the boy gladly provides.
      Seemingly by coincidence, Dean eventually meets up with a local coffee bar owner next to the Alesandro’s digs. The young beauty, Sofia (Celina Font) at first sends him away, but soon gives out clues in English that she not only knows the language but knows the true whereabouts the elusive Pablo. Again by coincidence, so it appears, Dean also encounters Pablo’s former lover, Marcos (Leonardo Brzezicki), who also tries to bed Dean, with no success, but does manage to fuck the bellboy.
      Turns out Marcos is Sofia’s brother and that he has apparently been sent to kill Dean. O my, I suppose we’re expected to respond; perhaps this is a kind of noir mystery, particularly after Sofia promises to take Dean to Pablo’s country home, but drops him off at her own small villa for a nightly stay-over instead. By the next morning, demanding to be taken to Pablo’s home, he discovers it’s all been a ruse, that Pablo is still back in town. But, finally, Marcos does lure the reluctant lover into his bed, the morning after firing his gun into his own head instead of the intended victim.

     The problem is that we no longer care. Dean is no Bogart or even Mitchum, and by the time he determines, after another attempted break-in to the Alessandro mansion, “to do something about it,” we don’t give a hoot that this obsessed narcissist gay boy now plans to take a machete to his callous rich-boy lover’s head and plant it into a cooler he has also just purchased.
     Again through a promise from Sofia, Dean plans to meet Pablo for lunch, but that lunch turns out to be an after-wedding party celebrating the marriage of Pablo to Sophia. Already at the party, the apparently always randy Pablo has moved off to another room to screw a male guest. And Dean follows, drawing his large machete out of thin air, which hovers, in the penultimate scene of this confused dark comedy film, over his former lover to either sever his one-time lover’s head or, if we wish to imagine a less violent scene, to detach his penis.
      The last scene shows Dean in a taxi, back in Los Angeles, the cooler stowed intimately beside him, a bit like the last scene of the Coens’ Barton Fink. As in that movie, it is a cheap trick, clearly a Pandora’s box with nothing inside. In real life, had Dean accomplished such an act, given the immediacy of the police and goons who protect the Alessandro family, he would be in an Argentine prison. And, of course, had he anything in that cooler he’d have certainly been caught at the customs line. Yet, evidently, Dean has now found the “closure” he desperately sought, and maybe even a new subject for his next graphic novel. Quite frankly, apparently like the director and his writer, the audience no longer cares.    

Los Angeles, April 28, 2017

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