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'Love! Valour! Compassion!': Vapid!

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 23, 1997

Be afraid -- be very afraid -- when a movie begins with a tinkling piano. It means the filmmaker is so touched by his own work, he's too far gone to make you understand his ecstasy. And prepare yourself for the worst if you see three exclamation points in the title: It means the movie contains postmodern irony.

"Love! Valour! Compassion!," an adaptation of Terrence McNally's Tony Award-winning play, which has piano music and exclamation points to spare, is excruciatingly predictable, creatively inane and almost offensive in its depiction of gay characters. And yes, it's positively riddled with postmodern irony. What does it take to lose the Tony -- talent?

Gregory (Stephen Bogardus), a gay choreographer in his 40s, has invited some friends to his idyllic country home for rest, lakeside relaxation and togetherness. The honored guests consist of:

  • Arthur (John Benjamin Hickey) and Perry (Stephen Spinella), a gay couple who have been together for more than 10 years. They have their differences and their wandering thoughts, but they stick together. The secret of their success? They're so dull they deserve each other.

  • Gregory's lover, Bobby (Justin Kirk), a blind man with a beatific soul who's devoted to Gregory -- apart from when Puerto Rican stud-boy Ramon (Randy Becker) shares a special moment with him, right around midnight-snack time.

  • John (John Glover), a snotty, chain-smoking English composer (imagine David Bowie gone to seed) who hates everyone, including himself, and who apparently has brought along his lover Ramon solely to cause trouble.

  • Jim, John's twin brother, played again by Glover. Barely have you stopped screaming at Glover's over-the-top Brittiness as John, when he reappears as the nicer, serene sib (imagine Maggie Smith as David Bowie) who's HIV-positive. And Holy Schizophrenia: The brothers' family name is Jeckyll!

  • Buzz Hauser (Jason Alexander), a flamboyant queen who's obsessed with stage musicals and is also HIV-positive. Alexander's over-the-top, flail-wristed performance is enough to push the gay revolution back into the deepest, darkest closet. (Jason, don't even think of quitting that day job.)

    Of course, the gathering of guests leads to romantic friction, late-night hanky-panky, soul-searching and mildewed repartee aspiring to poignancy and wit. Imagine Chekhov as imitated by Harvey Fierstein, then rewritten by a committee of soap-opera writers. It doesn't help matters, either, that director Joe Mantello (who also helmed the stage show) either under-directs his performers into narcolepsy or forces them to stumble into caricature. If you're going to enjoy this stultifying disaster, it's going to take a lot of love, valour and compassion.

    LOVE! VALOUR! COMPASSION! (R, 115 minutes) Contains sexual situations, nudity, profanity and a rear-view shot of Jason Alexander wearing nothing but an apron..

    © Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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