If you can detect a common theme between Naked Boys Singing, Balls Out, and Grease, then Judge Brett Cullum has got a DVD for you!
A deliciously tacky slap to gay Hollywood's warped sensibilities.
What do you when a crazy, muscled up cross-dresser wants to terrorize Hollywood because he wasn't cast in a naked boy musical revue? How do you marry a sweet innocent love story about a guy who's hiding from intimacy with a mass murder subplot? It's all about nude singers, terrorist drag queens, a cult of celebrity impersonators, people embarrassed by nudity, and a send-up of Hollywood's internalized homophobia and it's called Beverly Kills. This scatological farce is the fourth feature film from writer/director Damion Dietz, and the third one to hit DVD thanks to the out-and-proud TLA Releasing. Dietz's first film Fag Hag was picked up by Troma, while the stunning, picturesque Neverland was distributed by TLA (still missing in action is his second full length feature, The Virgin Larry, held back due to musical rights, and a short called Respect My Ass). The young director has a varied and interesting catalogue of films already; how does Beverly Kills fare on DVD?
Beverly Jackson (Gary Kelley, Neverland) auditions for the The Pride Playhouse's naked musical revue called Balls Out. Problem is he's wearing drag reminiscent of Olivia Newton John in full Pink Lady mode at the end of Grease. He is of a certain age, and the director seems hell bent on casting young, nubile singers who look more traditionally West Hollywood. Beverly takes the rejection harshly, and vows revenge against the theatre and all of Hollywood. Meanwhile, the theatre's house manager Shane (Rick Sparks, Neverland) is dumped by his image-conscious boyfriend, who has decided he is over his "twink" phase and is moving on to muscle boys. Shane takes the breakup hard, but soon finds himself attracted to the earnestly optimistic light board operator Ray (Matthew Hermann). Their relationship develops, but so does Beverly's plan for revenge. As the cross dresser's outfits grow more outrageous (Columbia from The Rocky Horror Picture Show , Little Orphan Annie, and Liza Minelli from Cabaret), so do his ambitions. Beverly hypnotizes several recent arrivals to Hollywood and convinces them to become celebrity impersonators that will carry out his final act against what Hollywood stands for. As the naked revue prepares to open, Shane and Ray find themselves mixed up in Beverly's plot to insure attention will be paid. Will it end up as a glittery apocalypse, a lost Tennessee Williams play called Death of a Drag Queen—or have a happy ending?
Beverly Kills emulates the theatricality and kink factor of a John Waters production, and returns Dietz to the same tone as Fag Hag. It's played for comical farce, but also sports the trappings of a thriller and a sugary gay romance. It's got more stuff going on than a go-go boy with a plastic extension in his g-string getting in to the groove on top of a speaker. Yet the disparate collage approach works, because somehow everything is tied together by the theme of internalized homophobia run rampant in Los Angeles. Even though the film seems to be a senseless comedic romp, it's smart enough to put some "oomph" behind its sillier elements. But you'll come for the comedy coupled with the gratuitous nudity.
The spoofs of the gay community are painfully dead on and well executed, and they keep the film moving. The Pride Playhouse production of Balls Out skillfully skewers the all-too-real revue Naked Boys Singing (a pantless song and dance affair I personally spent three years as a cast…um…"member" of). Anyone who's ventured into a gay theatre in the last decade will recognize the strange obsession with perky, gym-buffed men chirping their way through ludicrous show tunes about empowerment while their genitalia bounces along. The opening title number (penned by Dietz himself) could fit right in to Naked Boys without anyone but the clothing challenged revue's creator Bob Schrock noticing. Ray and Shane's romance is a send up of your typical West Hollywood confection born of more "serious" films like Latter Days or The Broken Hearts Club: A Romantic Comedy. It takes all the usual angst of young picturesque Hollywood love, and sends it spinning to "romantic" acts like taking Ambien together and hitting an almost deserted gay night at a roller rink (I was disappointed that these two events were not simultaneous…Ambien and skates is ripe with comedic potential). I would be remiss not to mention that Beverly's plan is formulated while being massaged by a practitioner of naked rubs obsessed with sports outfits. Anyone who has hired a male massage therapist will giggle at the attire these guys wear (as in the back pages of any gay paper taken to its logical extreme).
There is a serious side to this lunacy that you'll have to be intuitive to grasp completely. Beverly can't accept who he is, so he hides in drag and haphazardly plots revenge to keep himself from thinking about it. He creates an elaborate charade to hide his disappointment and the looming specter of failure. Shane fears intimacy and has a hang up about nudity, so his affiliation with Balls Out takes an ironic twist. Ray represents his hope for salvation by being free enough to bear his body and soul. Beverly's celebrity impersonator followers are caught up in the illusion of Hollywood, and seek a way to avoid confronting their own issues. They fall in love with the idea of emulating fame rather than earning it. Beverly Kills challenges our obsession with surface rather than dealing with real issues, and Hollywood and the theatre make a perfect setting for it to play out. The movie exploits Los Angeles in a fabulous way, and reveals the darker side of Tinseltown in a hilarious way.
The movie utilizes a decidedly unknown cast, although many of them are headed towards being regulars of Dietz's productions. Damion seems to be cobbling together his own Dreamland company in the hills of Los Angeles (think of it as John Waters—the West Coast branch). Gary Kelley (Hook of Neverland) takes on the titular role of Beverly with all the gusto of a De Niro, Hoffman, or Streep. Somehow someone forgot to give him the memo he was in a spoofy comedy, but his vitriolic commitment to his part works in a strange way. Rick Sparks (Peter from Neverland) is sweet and earnest as the romantic lead. Matthew Hermann manages to sincerely sound optimistic. Stephanie Orff (the lead in Fag Hag) stands out easily as a follower of Beverly with a hilarious call to her mother before the final act as well as her memorable rendition of "I Want to Fuck My Way to the Top." The actors adopt a theatrical quality that may take some getting used to if you're not a fan of camp cinema, but they succeed in creating their own special universe for Beverly Kills to exist.
The DVD for Beverly Kills is a mixed bag, but on the whole is robust for a small feature. The transfer is mostly clear with grainy sequences cropping up intermittently. Sound is simple stereo, and seems just a touch hot resulting in some distortion (even in the dialogue). Extras include two short deleted scenes, a quick photo gallery, the trailer, and a commentary from the director. The alternate audio track is the main feature here, and Dietz comes off as charmingly self-conscious. He graciously explains his intent in detail. I wish he had someone to bounce discussion off of, like his mother who is his production designer, but the commentary is insightful and warrants a listen.
Beverly Kills will work best for fans of truly absurd comedies, but it's an interesting entry for GLBT cinema. Surprisingly, the genre features few truly alternative voices; here's one that is unlike films you've ever seen before. It's over packed with subplots and has a charming, random quality that creates an interestingly tacky entry in ADD theatre. Dietz's brand of cinema won't have wide mainstream appeal even among the gay community, but those who love it will be passionate enough to develop a cult following. It's a low budget affair, delivered in earnest camp, but has a gleeful spirit that makes up for any shortcomings. I laughed long and hard at the absurdity that all the character's self hatred led to—performing in a naked musical, dressing up as heroines from community theatre, avoiding intimacy, and pinning all your hopes on the illusion most people have of Hollywood. It's an over the top indictment of how Tinseltown shatters people's dreams, and leads them to do the craziest things imaginable. It could be viewed as a cautionary tale told by a twisted soul with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek and his sizable balls hanging out for the world to see. I loved its exuberant unapologetic B-film aspirations, and embraced its audacious stance as a piece that feels more like John Waters than anything he's produced in the last decade. Damion Dietz is a filmmaker to watch that promises to bring a revolution to gay film, and Beverly Kills is a fine assault on the senses.
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