By Phil Hall | March 22, 2007

“Boy Culture” can be described as a guilty pleasure. It is not a great film, by any stretch of the imagination, and the story has lapses of logic that inspire endless waves of incredulity. Yet it is an entertaining bit of fluff, with a few engaging performances and enough visual panache to keep audiences diverted and amused.

Set in Seattle, “Boy Culture” centers on the world of X, a 25-year-old high-priced male prostitute. Yes, his name is X and people in the film call him “X” during conversation. (And, no, he doesn’t change his name to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz by the end of the movie.)

X has apparently watched too many film noir thrillers, as he narrates his adventures with a tough, chronically cynical turn-of-phrase that dissects his immediate surroundings and the entire American gay subculture with the severity of Jack the Ripper doing a night on the town. Sometimes it is amusing (he advises the audience to “only accept drinks that are factory-sealed”), sometimes it is crass (he keeps a statue of the Virgin Mary that depicts the Holy Mother with a “cunty expression”), and eventually it becomes tiresome (he’s pretty much a nasty queer with a chip on his shoulder and a big mouth).

Anyway, X seems to be making an uncommonly fine living as a hustler – he owns a motorcycle, wears designer clothing, and lives in a duplex apartment with furniture and décor that clearly did not come from Macy’s on sale day. In order, he explains, to “keep the IRS off my back,” he has two roommates who are supposedly his main source of income. One of them, a 17-year-old nelly named Joey, is inexplicably living there rent-free (we’ll get to him in a minute). The other, Andrew, is a video store clerk (who also seems to be making a substantial income, as witnessed by his designer wardrorbe). Being a gay-oriented movie, all of the young men look like a Gus Van Sant wet dream.

On the fringe of the story is Gregory, a wealthy 79-year-old recluse who becomes a new client for X. But Gregory’s not paying X for carnal knowledge. Instead, their sessions are strictly talk, and mostly of a psychoanalytical nature. Gregory talks about his sexual awakening with the hunky son of his apartment building’s superintendent while X opens up on his coming of age and his personal problems.

Yes, X has personal problems: he won’t commit to an emotional relationship. And that stinks, because he has the hots for Andrew, who also has the hots for him – but Andrew knows about X’s occupation and will not pursue anything beyond the platonic unless X gets a new line of work. And Joey (remember him?) also has the hots for X – and for any muscular man in a tight t-shirt, for the matter. X has a paternal concern for Joey, which may explain why he is living with him rent-free (Joey also has a designer wardrobe despite no source of income).

“Boy Culture” spends much of its time going in tightly-wound circles before detouring into an absurd off-ramp where X accompanies Andrew to Portland, Oregon, for the wedding of Andrew’s one-time fiance (she was part of a time when Andrew was keeping his designer threads company in the closet). From there, the whole film suddenly begins springing all sorts of odd epiphanies that have no relation to the sourish, sarcastic events that preceded them. The explosion of feel-good happenings that appears the last 15 minutes seem to come from another movie that was haphazardly grafted on this production.

If the film lacks sense and credibility, at least it looks good. Filmmaker Q. Allan Brocka, gives the film a polished, sophisticated visual style that belies its 19-day DV production schedule (kudos to Rachel M. Thomson’s art direction). The young leads (Derek Magyar as X, Darryl Stephens as Andrew and Jonathon Trent as Joey) keep the eye candy quotient steady, and the casting director found a surplus of young studs to fill the ranks of the extras. Of course, those who are not in possession of six-pack abs and 18-inch biceps are relegated to mean-spirited comic sight gags (hey, it is a gay-themed movie).

And somewhat surprisingly, given the circumstances, the performances are almost all perfect. Magyar and Stephens have a nice chemistry together and each possesses a strong solo screen presence. And Patrick Bauchau as the wise yet mysterious Gregory provides a serene yet commanding performance that gives the film something it probably never aspired to obtain: a soul. His monologues on Gregory’s awkward coming of age are provided with an astonishing degree of intelligent compassion.

But there is one major acting mistake here, which is Jonathon Trent’s performance as Joey. The problem could easily be blamed on the actor (who overdoes the big sissy routine) and the screenplay (it is a badly written and stereotypically hideous part). But blame also needs to go to the casting director: the 23-year-old Trent is physically and emotionally too mature to play a 17-year-old, and the effect is equivalent to Joe Besser’s performance as the juvenile Stinky on “The Abbott and Costello Show.”

However, by the standards of gay-themed cinema, “Boy Culture” is more than fine. Just enjoy the view and don’t expect cerebral stimulation.

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