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By Charles Martin | February 2, 2009

Imagine a young John Waters, only with no sense of urgency, more militantly queer, and tone-deaf to the subtleties of satire. There you have Bruce La Bruce, writer/director of “Otto, or Up With Dead People.” You would think a “gay zombie political porno movie” would be a lot of laughs, or at least creepily arousing (if you’re into that sort of thing). Wrong on both counts.

In interviews, La Bruce has explained his thinking behind this angst-ridden opus, which runs along the lines of “homosexuals are outsiders, zombies are outsiders, thus ‘gay zombie.’” Somebody explain to this guy that 2 + 2 doesn’t equal more two, it equals four, as in “four times too long.”

The story (such as there is) runs like this: Otto the gay zombie may or may not be a zombie, nobody’s really sure, but he shambles around and eats road kill like one. He falls into the clutches of a Grand Guignol-type director named Medea Yarn and her posse, who has been struggling to make the aforementioned “political gay zombie porno movie,” and decides Otto is perfect for it. So we get a lot of arty “film within a film” cliches and a sound mix that sounds like road construction going on outside a disco. Eventually Otto abandons Medea’s film to go find his former boyfriend, who still isn’t interested. Otto decides to leave town, leaving a lot of blood and pointlessness behind.

There are some good points: Jey Crisfar as Otto does a great job as the disaffected youth, the characters in general are intriguing enough, Medea’s ridiculously hammy Ayn Rand-ian speeches occasionally provide a good laugh, and there’s a few smatterings of physical comedy that are cute and/or successful. The nude bodies are generally attractive (at least, at first) and, as the fellow who introduced the film put it in his disclaimer to the audience, “there’s some hardcore gay necrophiliac sex, but it’s done tastefully.”

La Bruce probably intended “Otto” to be a reaction to the misogynistic, homophobic horror movies we normally get and that’s certainly a noble idea: the problem is that he fails to provide us with a good zombie movie, a good pro-gay/pro-feminist political movie or a good porno movie (even a non-zombie orgy at the end fails to interest). The film just lurches from one unfocused concept to the next, ultimately going nowhere in a unsteady shamble, just like the film’s namesake.

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