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By Phil Hall | February 6, 2008

Gus Van Sant’s 1985 feature debut is a typical first-time indie endeavor: a surplus of artsy touches, wildly uneven acting and more than a little pretension.

This tale of a Portland skid row convenience store clerk who becomes obsessed with a pair of young Mexican migrants wears out its welcome very quickly, primarily because the central character is clearly too stupid to realize he is being played for a chump. The Mexicans clearly hold him in contempt – they wreck his car, steal his money and openly call him “puto” (the Spanish slang for “faggot”), yet he keeps coming back for me. Even worse, he rhapsodizes endlessly via the soggy narration on the mystery and eroticism his would-be objects of affection.

To its credit, this $25,000 production features a striking use of black-and-white cinematography and boasts an uncommonly strong central performance by Tim Streeter as the love-struck clerk. Streeter was a Portland theater actor who never made another movie, which is bizarre considering his natural and winning connection with the 16mm camera.

But the nonprofessionals Doug Cooeyate and Ray Monge have no charisma as the Mexicans, which throws the film’s purpose totally off-kilter since it is incomprehensible why anyone would become manic in chasing this duo. Van Sant’s weak screenplay, based on Walt Curtis’ autobiographical novel, never offers an explanation of this situation. Instead, it meanders endlessly before stopping without any genuine sense of resolution.

The best part of this DVD release is a special feature inteview with Van Sant on the film’s creation. Outside of Van Sant’s fans and those interested in 1980s queer cinema, this film is not recommended.

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