Judge P.S. Colbert likes to start with the Afterglow.
"Ninety nine percent of all my clients are straight men who are just…looking for something, you know…different."—Aliya
Hit and miss in the way peculiar to most anthology films, and sexually explicit to a degree that's certain to render all but the most open-minded and (sexually) adventurous a bit squeamish at some point or another, Fourplay begs each viewer to ask of him or herself: what is perversion?
Facts of the Case
Four stories, each named after the locality it takes place in.
SKOKIE: Gail (Sara Sevigny) warbles in a church choir, but keeps mum on her fantasies about devout Christian friend, Marcy (Amy Jean Johnson, Pearl Diver) who sings on the same line. Agreeing to dog sit for Marcy and her husband Roger (Paul Dunckel) over Halloween weekend, Gail must contend with the occasionally ferocious tiny terrier Myra, who winds up fellating her way into the frustrated lesbian's heart.
AUSTIN: An extremely handsome heterosexual couple is in a quandary. Lily (Danielle Rene) confesses to her lover, Kai (Atticus Rowe) that she stopped taking her birth control three months ago, despite a contraceptive agreement between them. This revelation blows the lid off a great deal of simmering tension brewing betwixt the two, and after a big fight, Lily storms into an Adult Book and Video store, with a confused and tormented Kai following in hot pursuit.
TAMPA: Luis (Jose Villarreal), after finishing his lunch in the food court of a shopping mall, Luis (Jose Villareal) heads to the restroom. Soon thereafter, he's joined by a revolving cavalcade of "package inspectors," and a wild orgy ensues.
SAN FRANCISCO: Crossdressing prostitute Aliya (Paul Soileau) is set up for a meeting with a middle-aged, quadriplegic man (Gary Chason, Dear Pillow), able only to communicate by blinking his eyes. Another hurdle to overcome for Aliya is the fact that her client, Tom, is straight, and in fact, the meeting was arranged by his wife, Anne (Cyndi Williams).
Each vignette averages about twenty minutes, so going into the direct action of any one threatens to raise dreaded "spoiler alerts," which I always prefer to avoid.
Fourplay immediately handicaps itself by beginning with its weakest link. Once, I might have written this segment's failure off because I believed it impossible to make any human participant in an act of bestiality sympathetic in any way. Now, I can think of two examples where this was pulled off: in Woody Allen's Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex *But Were Afraid To Ask, Gene Wilder (The World's Greatest Lover) managed to both tickle the funny bone and pluck the heart strings with his portrayal of a man so enamored of a sheep named Daisy that he gave up his beautiful wife, a promising career, and a virtual guarantee of upper middle-class happily-ever-after to be with his little lamb. And when Bobcat Goldthwait mentioned that his film Sleeping Dogs Lie opened with a "bestiality scene, which is tastefully done, by the way," Gol-durned if he wasn't telling the truth!
No, what makes "Skokie" such a soggy bowl of flakes as an opener is a combination of the script (by Jessica Hedrick), which is constructed to lead to a punch line—never a good idea for material stretching past a minute—and the actors, who've apparently been directed (by Kyle Henry) to operate as Stepford Christians, as opposed to actual human beings. Unless Henry's intention was to give Rick Santorum an "Aha!" moment (which I seriously doubt), What are we supposed to take away when dumpy, frumpy Gail discovers that Marcy's dog will do just as well in a pinch, so to speak? Where's the comedy? Where's the point? Where does the film go from here?
Onto "Austin," the first, and least successful of three collaborations between Henry and screenwriter Carlos Trevino. Ironically, the second segment fails as a result of artistic over-reach. The spats between Lily and Kai are well written and well played, but the effect is needlessly blunted by Henry's decision to present them mostly in over-the-should point of view shots. It's easy to see that Rene and Rowe had chemistry together, and sparks were flying from their interactions, so why not capture the magic uninterrupted, via master shot, instead of dissecting the scene, and thus reducing it to less by the sum of its parts?
Henry and company finally bring all the elements wonderfully together for the second half of the film, first in the outrageously absurd "Tampa," which leads from a crazily choreographed circle jerk to a climax that I can only conclude is an homage to Stanley Kubrick's climax in The Shining. Go ahead, tell me I'm wrong—I dares ya!
Finally, "San Francisco," seemingly set up as a burlesque show for a drag queen, astounds with its sensitivity, its wild power shifts (Chason's performance as a paralytic is astounding, and the perfect complement to a bravura turn by Soileau), and yes, it's sexiness. I'm not proud to admit to an almost instinctual revulsion to performers in drag for most of my life, but I'm humbled to admit that these filmmakers overruled my preconceptions with their skills.
Let's face it, Fourplay was never going to out to the multi-plexes of America, but I'm glad it's now being granted a life beyond the festival circuit. AOK's DVD presentation is a wonderful concert of anamorphic widescreen image and Dolby Digital stereo sound. There's an optional commentary track from director Kyle Henry, joined by principal players (both on and offscreen) throughout the flim's length. Additional bonus features include a "making of" featurette focusing on the mini-epic "Tampa," a blog interview with Chloë (responsible for costuming, hair and makeup for the Aliya character in "San Francisco), and a number of different trailers for the film.
Truth be told, I can't imagine seeing Fourplay again at my own suggestion. This film just isn't my bag, having nothing to do with either its gay content, or its explicit depiction of sexuality. I will say, having appreciated the abundance of talent on display here, I certainly look forward to what these filmmakers come up with next. Here are forces at work to watch out for in future.
Perversion is in the mind of the beholder. Not guilty!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: AOK Productions
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