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Latter Days

Losing His Religion

Christian is a lean, muscular Los Angeles waiter and party-boy slut who knows what he wants and always gets it, usually in sweaty two-hour chunks. Aaron is a fresh-faced Mormon missionary who's just arrived in L.A. to spend two years away from his family saving souls.


But the latter is hardly a saint: He's gay, too, only he hasn't done anything about it yet. Good thing he and his pals move into a bungalow next to Christian (Wes Ramsey -- a good porn-film name), who immediately decides to serve Aaron (Steve Sandvoss) a heaping hot plate of sexual liberation.


That's the setup for Latter Days, a movie written and directed by C. Jay Cox, who is himself a recovering Mormon, and who clearly has things to say about the ticket to Heaven that he tore up and tossed to the wind some time ago. Too bad he's not talented enough yet to say any of them: Latter Days, however sweetly well intentioned, is 100-plus minutes of passable actors speaking wooden dialogue to each other. It's as contrived as any piece of college fiction, and if it were any thicker with maxims and metaphors, it could be an anti-Mormon New Testament (Tony Kushner's Angels in America is the Old).


You expect some awkwardness in a small movie with non-commercial subject matter. But good writing doesn't cost much, especially when you're paying yourself to do it. Was it necessary to build the movie's erotic tension by having Christian cut his ass on a garden hose, after which Aaron gets to put a bandage on it? Let's hope Cox did this to parody porno-movie plots, although I think that's a generous reading. The lovers have two brief sessions of coitus interruptus before they finally get it on in an airport motel, and when they do, Cox doesn't spare the manflesh. At least he gets that much right, even if Aaron seems way too skilled in the sack for a virgin.


For themes, we have the usual: Choose Mr. Right, not Mr. Right Now; choose honesty, not the little box of repression and morality that religion ordains. Hear, hear. So why chide the Mormon Church for hypocrisy because it condones the "alternative lifestyle" of polygamy but condemns homosexuals? Doesn't that sort of suggest that homosexuality should be illegal, too?


The cast of Latter Days includes Jacqueline Bisset as the foxy owner of the restaurant where Christian works, and a quivering Mary Kay Place as Aaron's chilly mother, who simply can't accept her son's satanic lifestyle. Their familiar presence adds little, although until the steely Bisset weeps (not her emotion), it's good to see her again. Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Third Rock From the Sun) plays a belligerent Mormon colleague of Aaron's, and Erik Palladino (E.R.) is a melancholy late-stage AIDS patient who becomes Christian's oddly prescient Miss Cleo. 2 cameras

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