Wednesday, July 2, 2003

The Trip

Posted By on Wed, Jul 2, 2003 at 12:00 AM

"A gay romantic comedy, Disney-fied" - that was one brief and off-the-cuff description of The Trip. Would boy meet boy as they slurp the same spaghetti noodle and end up in a stubbly faced kiss ˆ a la Lady and the Tramp? Almost, but not quite.

First-time writer-director Miles Swain picks from the box of straight romantic comedy stock characters and plots, dusts them off and puts them in a gay context. The first half of this flick could have been titled When Alan Met Tommy. Like that pop rom-com classic, When Harry Met Sally, The Trip covers more than a decade of an odd-couple relationship.

In 1973, during the last years of Nixon's presidency, young Alan Oakley meets younger Tommy Ballenger at the boy harem that villainous lawyer Peter Baxter (Ray Baker) calls home. For gay rights activist Tommy and his caricature of a queen roommate, Michael (Alexis Arquette), ambitious journalist Alan is worse than straight: He's a Republican. But Tommy accepts Alan's invitation to dinner anyway.

Alan believes he has just set up an interview for a feature article he's writing on homosexual "deviants." Tommy's thinking it's a date. Alan's stereotypically flaky California girlfriend, Beverly Phillips (Sirena Irwin), picks up on a strong vibe between the boys, realizes she's become a fifth wheel and splits the scene, leaving her boyfriend to wrestle with his sexual orientation issues - and, later, Tommy.

Of course, complications must ensue to block the way to true love. Fast forward to 1977: Openly gay activist and politician Harvey Milk is assassinated; Anita Bryant hawks orange juice and antigay bigotry - and Baxter sabotages both Alan and Tommy's relationship and the gay rights movement. Boy loses boy.

Cut to 1984 and When Alan Met Tommy morphs into just Alan & Tommy as Swain has his lovers race from Mexico to the States in their early-'70s Oldsmobile. As our heroes become lame free spirits and outlaws with a tragically melodramatic ending over the horizon, their titular trip begs (and suffers in) comparison to Thelma and Louise's.

"Will & Grace," TV's reigning gay sitcom, plays in Peoria perhaps as well as any Disney production and often transcends its genre into laugh-out-loud romantic comedy and affecting melodrama. That's more than I can say for this 95-minute feature that's as rib-tickling, tear-jerking and replete with stereotypes as a bad "Three's Company" rerun. The Trip falls short.

Opens Friday exclusively at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main, Royal Oak). Call 248-542-0180.

James Keith La Croix writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail letters@metrotimes.com.

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