Wednesday, August 10, 2011

TV Review - Punks (2000)

LOGO-TV has made available this eleven-year-old, independent film, which was the first of Patrik-Ian Polk. It was in many ways a precursor to his hit series Noah's Arc (2004). It centers around a young, black gay man and his three friends. He falls in love with a fellow African-American who he thinks is straight, as he learns the importance of being himself and valuing romance over the impulse to drink alcohol and fornicate with random people.

Seth Gilliam (Oz and The Wire) stars as Marcus, the hopeless romantic who works as a Los Angeles photographer. His roommate and best friend is Hill, played by Dwight Ewell. The story kicks off during Hill's 30th birthday party. They celebrate at a nightclub where their friend, Chris, is a regular performer. Chris, played by Jazzmun, is a drag queen who goes by the name Chrystal and who pegs himself as Diana Ross or Kathy Sledge from the R&B group Sister Sledge. Renoly Santiago (Dangerous Minds and Hackers) plays Dante, the youngest of Marcus' friends who's Puerto Rican.

Hill's birthday is ruined when he catches his French boyfriend, Gilbert, played by German actor Rudolph Martin, cheating. Hill goes into overdrive as a newly single man and begins a series of one-nite-stands. Marcus is not as bold. He's more shy. Hill even has to educate Marcus on flirting with a guy at a bar. Marcus instead sees a cute guy and doesn't know how to approach or make a move. Such is the case with Lucas, played by Jason Olive. Marcus wouldn't even know what to do if a hot, male model hit on him.

All of that changes when Darby moves next door. Darby, played by Rockmond Dunbar (Soul Food and Prison Break) works in the music industry. Marcus spies Darby from his kitchen window and is instantly smitten. Marcus' friends invite themselves over to Darby's place for dinner with the hopes of one of them getting Darby into bed. Their hopes are dashed when Darby announces he has a girlfriend named Jennifer, played by Vanessa Williams (Melrose Place and Soul Food).

As Marcus is resigned to have a friendship with Darby, Chris struggles with his friendships to the members of his group. The group sees Chris as a diva, hogging the spotlight. His presence and behavior here and later when Chris has to rescue a couple of his friends show how much of an alpha male he is while simultaneously wearing women's clothes and being a mother hen.

Issues of homophobia in the black community are addressed. For gay men of any ethnicity in America, the term "faggot" is the pejorative of choice, but for men of color, specifically African-American men, the term "punk" is the one that's often used. It's used to put black gay men down, but Patrik-Ian Polk's movie attempts to fight against that.

It also attempts to put some balance to the overwhelming number of white gay films. In many ways, we see here that there is not much difference between gay men of color and white gay men. The sassiness may be at an increased level, but that's it.

The production value is significantly lower than Noah's Arc, as was the budget I'm sure, but I don't think Polk ever did anything as artistic in his future endeavor than what he does here with a swimming fantasy. In a landscape where so little black sexuality is depicted on screen, Polk provides something beautiful in blue. Two nubian, well-sculpted bodies intertwine under water and under the lusciousness of moonlight.

Five Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-14 for language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 31 mins., minus commercials.
Aired on August 7, 2011.
Full movie available at http://www.logotv.com/video/punks/1668428/playlist.jhtml

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