Judge Brett Cullum is totally on board with the concept of pistol-packing drag queen action heroes—but this film doesn't quite execute.
India: When two guys kiss it's like a bomb goes off in the straight world. Our kisses are louder than bombs.
Queer cinema sees few action movies. I don't think we can really count The Boondock Saints, although I've never seen anything gayer than Willem Dafoe in full drag sprawled on a bed with a gun. So right off the bat FAQS is a rather unique movie aimed at the GLBT community; one which has few peers. It's an action movie—sort of a gay take on Death Wish, with Charles Bronson's character replaced with a .45-packing, muscular black drag queen taking back the streets and the night. It's a great concept, and one that works very well. A drag queen with a gun has a real chance to be funny and silly—think Pam Anderson in Barb Wire being replaced by RuPaul. And yet in FAQS, it's completely believable and as fun to watch as Batman Begins. The only downside is that FAQS disintegrates by its climax into a sappy "all you need is love" message, when it could have been a hell of a lot more daring.
Joe Lia (The Shadows) stars as India, a homeless hustler trying to survive on the streets of Los Angeles. One night, after being stiffed by a porn director, he finds himself almost bashed by tire-iron-toting rednecks. But out from the shadows emerges an impossibly tall figure, all in black, packing a pistol and a purse. Enter Destiny (Allan Louis, Staar), a vigilante in a wig who frightens the bashers and totals their jeep. Destiny invites India to become a part of her family, which consists of another "rainbow child" named Lester (Minerva Vier, Baby Boom), a lesbian cross-dresser. Soon India and Destiny latch onto another street kid, Spencer (Lance Lee Davis, Good Chemistry), who is determined to blow up his parents. That's literal, as in with a bomb. As if this weren't enough, there's two subplots: Destiny dangerously courts a cop who's looking for a killer drag queen, and India forces his in-the-closet bashers to come out.
FAQS has many things going for it. The acting is solid, even though the cast is comprised of first timers. Joe Lia plays every beat of India very down to earth with a natural charisma. Allan Louis gives a bravura performance as Destiny; one of the best pieces of acting I've seen in a gay production. The cinematography is interesting, a gay take on action noir using filters and lighting to make painterly compositions out of gay-ghetto West Hollywood settings. The score is interesting; the editing competent. The entire film rises above its independent roots to, in many ways, match a big-budget action flick. The sex scenes are plentiful, and have an unapologetic naturalness to them that makes them ring true. Everyone in the movie is painfully pretty, but this film's characters are more quirky than those in most gay films set in West Hollywood. They're certainly not hairless, steroided-out gym bunnies in hot pants at least, but nobody's hard on the eyes either.
You'd think this would be a new masterpiece of queer movies, but unfortunately there are a few things holding it back. FAQS is so concerned with its own political message the characters often spout lines that sound like activist philosophy, rather than something real people would say. I had a hard time buying the dialogue, even when it was delivered sincerely (especially in the last half hour). And the climax includes an unbelievable standoff at gunpoint where someone is disarmed with a kiss. What writer director Everett Lewis (Luster) forgets is often crimes are born of passion. Hate is often a byproduct of love, not its opposite (that would be apathy); and in the heat of the moment, violence is more likely than peace. Why is the film so afraid to explore that possibility? The movie also promotes something curiously offensive yet common in queer cinema—that violent straight guys can somehow be converted into happy homos just by getting laid. Even if a basher has gay tendencies, they also have violent ones. God, how I longed for David Cronenberg to step in and finish the picture as a gay take on A History of Violence. Yet what I got was a limp-wristed wuss of an ending with a lot of political statements about kisses being stronger than bombs. So sexuality is the answer to hate crimes? I'm not buying that fantasy ticket anytime soon. Next time someone comes at you with a bat, are you going to kiss them or shoot them?
The movie assumes violence is solely a product of straight culture, while all the GLBT community is based on is love (the commentary even supports this verbatim). It has an interesting concept at its core: that sex is not the basis for being gay, but love is. I find this fuzzy logic, since I can frequently find a non-sexual way to love a person, which has nothing to do with sexual identity or even lust. I can love a brother, a father, or a friend, and not have to feel like I am suddenly in a gay relationship. The core definition of homosexuality is based on sexual acts and a longing for them; a basic need to feel sexually fulfilled by members of the same sex. Love is something everyone seeks out, and violence can be found in the meekest of souls. The movie isn't daring in the final analysis, because the most brave move would be to make the violence take its logical course, rather than offering us a three-way sex scene and some terribly trite proclamations of love. Had the movie relied on the strength of its vigilante opening to carry it through, it would be classic and revolutionary. Instead, it turns into an adolescent take on queer politics with a happy, crappy message born from strong beginnings. FAQS promises explosions, and ends up shooting blanks.
FAQS is still a very interesting movie that should resonate with gay audiences. Performance-wise it's quite good; it's a pretty movie, is well made, and the thrills of the first reels far outweigh the disappointment of the denouement. It has its heart in the right place, yet rolls into a fantasy land of unbelievability. It's possible that may be its ultimate intent—a sincere fairy tale (no pun intended). A fantasy where killer queens become an army of lovers who no longer want to fight. A call for wigged avengers to lay down their arms and spread love instead of hate. A place where bat-wielding homo haters lock lips with their targets, and suddenly proclaim their love for all things gay. Sounds a bit like someone has been inhaling a few too many poppers while grooving out to Madonna songs on ecstasy. Come on out of that West Hollywood clothing-optional resort and cruise down some dusty roads in Texas waving that erotic freedom flag, and see how far you get. Unfortunately, some gay bashers are indeed heterosexual, and kisses aren't going to change the world fast enough to answer your frequently asked questions, like "Why do straight people hate us?."
TLA Releasing usually treats its titles well, but FAQS seems to have some curious technical problems originating from the initial print. The transfer is nice, although it often exposes grain and poorly mastered black levels. The stereo sound mix is muddy with a lot of hiss, but there seems to be problems with the source. Perhaps more ADR work would have helped FAQS, because sometimes I had to resort to subtitles to make sure I heard something right, or even at all. Extras include a bubbly commentary with the director and the lead actor who played India. It's a nice listen, and the two explain how the movie is meant for a queer audience and not a straight one. It's not meant to convert hatemongers as much as designed to placate those who are victims. Also included is a Q and A session from a Philadelphia screening. Nice packaging for the movie.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: TLA Releasing
• Commentary with Director Everett Lewis and Actor Joe Lia
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