Wednesday, March 30, 2011

You'll Have to Pay Me $200 American to Sit Through This Again: "200 American" (2003)

"200 American," a film from writer/director Richard LeMay, is as schizophrenic a piece of work as you will ever see.

Ad agency exec Conrad (Matt Walton) has broken up with his long term boyfriend Martin (John-Dylan Howard). He calls up an escort service and pays for sex from Ian (Sean Matic), an Australian. Could Conrad fall in love with this hustler? Before you settle in for a "Pretty Woman" lift, the film does a complete 180.

Conrad gets Ian a job as a photographer's assistant at the agency. There, Ian meets art director Michael (Anthony Ames), who is constantly at odds with the controlling Conrad. Conrad calls Ian in for sex from time to time, but Ian is engaged to be married to Sarah (Gail Herendeen). Before you settle in for "straight guy is really gay" story, the film switches gears again.

Michael and Ian are suddenly growing closer, and Conrad and Martin decide to give their relationship another try. Soon, Martin tries to get Conrad to lose his controlling ways, and Ian cannot seem to find the time to tell Michael he was a gay hustler who is marrying Sarah to stay in the country.

Just when you think you have the film down, it switches on you, and not to the benefit of the viewer. I liked Conrad at first, then hated him, then felt indifferent to him. Ian was a shallow hustler at first, then you like him, then indifference. Same story with Michael. I wanted to stay with LeMay's characters but they, and the film's tone, would change so drastically that I finally gave up and waited for the predictable conclusion.

LeMay does attempt some comedic moments, but they do not fit into the film well. Ian being constantly interrupted as he tries to tell Michael about his sordid past is strictly sitcom level stuff. There is a weird sequence involving white slavery that never pans out. Michael and Martin are stuck in an elevator with two women during an argument, but again the scene never plays as well as it should. One sequence that does get laughs is Martin and Conrad's visit to Conrad's grandfather, but this is the exception.

The authentic New York City locations are nice, as is some of the editing. Once in a while, a clock will jump back and forth by a few minutes and you can see a boom microphone shadow, but the film does move along, clocking in at under an hour and a half.

In the end, "200 American" simply lurches to far from one extreme to the other, grabbing the viewer by the hand and almost pulling their arm out of the socket. I finally made a stand, and cannot recommend the film. (* *) out of five stars.