Somewhere below “Production Assistant,” “Personal Assistant” and “Screenwriter” on the Hollywood pecking order, lies (kneels?) “The Fluffer.” For those of you not in the know about the workings of the porn industry, fluffing is the practice of keeping male performers orally aroused between takes so as not to lose the precious “wood” which is the very life’s blood of hardcore. I’m no expert (really, I’m not) but I get the vague impression that in the world of hetero-porn, it s sort of an, er, entry-level position for future porn starlets. According to “The Fluffer,” in the world of gay hardcore, fluffing can also be an outlet for sexual obsession.
Things get off to a fairly witty start with this tale of young Sean McGinnis (Michæl Cunio) who finds himself transfixed by the star of “Citizen Cum” – a muscle bound superstud with the nom du porn Johnny Rebel (Scott Gurney). Seeking a job as a camera assistant at Rebel s employer, The Men of Janus (Janus, we are reminded, was the Roman God of exits and entrances), he is hired by the affably sleazy ex-porn stud, Chad Cox (TV veteran Robert Walden of “Lou Grant” and “Brothers”). It’s not long before Johnny finds himself with a wood problem and Sean volunteers to pay the ultimate fan tribute.
Fandom is one thing, intimacy is another and Sean quickly realizes he’s barking up the wrong romantic tree. Johnny is “gay for pay,” an actor from straight porn who crossed over seeking bigger bucks. And bucks are what Johnny needs, with his newly pregnant, stripper girlfriend (beautiful Roxanne Day providing heterosexual relief) and a growing addiction to crystal methamphetamine. Utterly self-absorbed and stridently straight when not being orally pleasured or sodomizing one of his fellow performers, Johnny has no room for Sean — or anyone — in his life. Nevertheless, Sean remains transfixed, even spurning a potential boyfriend in favor of, well, something. Perhaps romantic obsession, but maybe not. It’s kind of hard to say. And that’s much where “The Fluffer” falls apart. Fighting to get out from under the shadow of “Boogie Nights,” it falls prey to the same formlessness that marred P.T. Anderson’s movie.
What saves “The Fluffer” may be the real life background in gay pornography of its writer, Wash Westmoreland, who co-directed with Richard Glatzer. The true-life experience shows – particularly in a number of funny and sincere moments in the first half of the film which aptly highlight the absurdity of having sex on camera – and/or finding that on-camera sex somehow more compelling than the off-camera kind. Unfortunately, the pace slows in markedly in the second act…and things don’t improve much in the last third, when a dramatic turn of events sends the story barreling off in a new direction that feels like it belongs in a different movie entirely.
Still, “The Fluffer” has its moments. In the lead role of Sean, Michæl Cunio acquits himself well throughout, wringing poignant moments out of scenes that could have been maudlin or empty. The rest of the leads give out decent, if sometimes uneven, indie-quality performances.
The smaller roles are a bit more consistent. It’s a lot of fun to see Robert Walden, who to me will always be ace reporter Joe Rossi from “Lou Grant”; Richard Reihle (“Deuce Bigalow”) does a funny turn as Sean’s surly boss; Deborah Harry of “Blondie” fame has a decent cameo as a compassionate strip club hostess; and stand-up comic Taylor Negron enjoys being briefly bitchy. There are also a bunch of cameos by porn stars, but please forgive this heterosexual for only recognizing the omnipresent Ron Jeremy.
Funny and sensitive for all its faults, “The Fluffer” is nevertheless unlikely to break out of the gay cinema ghetto. On the other hand, if a film about a young guy who looks remarkably like Rob Lowe giving oral pleasure to his favorite porn star sounds like you’re kind of film — it probably is!