Friday, October 19, 2012

Eventually Loses Speed: "The Velocity of Gary" (1999)

The video box for this independent film is so ambiguous as to its content, you cannot help but pick it up for curiosity's sake.

What you get is an offbeat love triangle that turns into a gay variation on the end of "Terms of Endearment." Thomas Jane is Gary, a blonde homosexual who arrives in New York City and meets up right away with Valentino (Vincent D'Onofrio), a porno star. The two make an instant connection and fall in love. Also along is Mary Carmen, played by Salma Hayek, who is madly in love with Valentino, and in a way he loves her too.

This strange trio hang out at a donut shop, surrounded by colorful characters like two giant African-American drag queens, a tattoo artist played by Ethan Hawke, and Chad Lindberg's Kid Joey, a deaf drag queen who somehow lip synchs along to Patsy Cline songs. Valentino's old porn costar, Olivia D'Abo, is still trying to get him back into skin flicks, and her run ins with Hayek are hilarious.

Now, we have all these colorful characters, they are involved in a thin but watchable film, and everyone is acting their respective asses off. D'Onofrio and Jane are great together, their first love scene in the phone sex center is incredible, and Hayek had never been given such a detailed person to play. She is no sexpot, just a confused sometime waitress. The film makers unwisely decide to give Valentino AIDS, and then the entire production drops all of their supporting characters and focuses on Hayek and Jane waiting for D'Onofrio to die.

I am one of the few people on Earth who thought the cancer angle of "Terms of Endearment" was forced and brought down an otherwise average film (and novel). I felt the same way here. While AIDS is nothing to be taken lightly, the film set itself up as something completely different. I wanted more of the drag queens, Kid Joey, the donut shop, even Valentino's dog Rodney. I did not want Gary and Mary Carmen yelling at each other over the prone body of Valentino, especially after Mary Carmen finds out she is carrying Valentino's baby. There is also a cop out in the fact that the words AIDS and HIV are never mentioned, like the film makers could not take us that one final step.

I was so happy with the performances and the first part of the film, and I will recommend this. The most depressing thing about "The Velocity of Gary" is its missed opportunity to be a perfect film. Oh well, what we have is pretty good, too. (* * * *) out of five stars.