Judas Kiss commits two narrative sins – apart from being just a sloppy cliché – that make it an unequivocal waste of time. The first is giving every appearance of a pathologically self-indulgent confessional; I have no idea if writer/director J.T. Tepnapa’s life actually mimics the events in the film, but the way he presents it, it is impossible to view it any other way. The second sin is in over-selling the embedded story: the short film, also called “Judas Kiss” that is central to the main plot. The film commits one specific gay sin I will cover after the end of the review since it presents a technical not a narrative problem, and is admittedly conjectural.
Hollywood hotshot director Topher Shadoe is unable to attend and judge the film festival at his alma mater so he sends his friend Zachary Wells. Zach is a fellow alum who has made nothing of his post film school life except to have reappearing roles in rehab. He arrives the day before his duties begin and is confronted by something off-putting: the security guard and college dean know something crucial about Zach’s presence that he cannot pin down. To combat that sense and the toxic nostalgia the school inflicts on him, he goes to a bar then hooks up with a younger man. To his embarrassment, Zach discovers that the young man is the film school phenom, Danny Reyes, whose short film “Judas Kiss” is the controversial favorite. This deeply confounds Zach because his real name is Danny Reyes and his student film “Judas Kiss” won the festival fifteen years earlier. We learn this within the first ten minutes but apparently Zach and Danny are oblivious to the hackneyed “second chance brought to you by your future self” storyline because it takes them another hour plus – filled with gelatinous subplots and unnecessary backstory – for each to realize it.
The main story centers on the fact that “Judas Kiss” is technically ineligible for the competition, though only Danny and Abbey, the film’s producer know this. Or that would have been true had Mr. Shadoe been a judge. Zach, being Danny v2, also knows this secret and is encouraged by yet another future self (the security guard) to rat out his previous self so he cannot win, thus ensuring both future Dannys (Dannies? Danni? or following an even more arcane rule for plurals, Dannae?) a better life. Whether this happens is perhaps the only non-cynical reason to watch the film so I will neither confirm nor deny whether either future Danny is successful in derailing the original Danny’s success. Confused yet?
There are also two romantic subplots that create a kind of broken love triangle. The first is between Danny and Shane whose parents essentially fund the school, so he is the believing himself entitled to anything. The second is between Danny and C.W., the good guy that seems truly to love Danny. Their relationship is muddied by the fact that C.W. used to have the role in Shane’s life and bed that Danny has now. Each relationship is developed just one stop past what would be necessary in porn to justify the bland sex scenes.
Judas Kissis more self-centered than even the most stereotypical Woody Allen movie (but at least even that theoretical movie would be somewhat funny on purpose). We have three Dannies. Also, the two campus hotties and BMOCs are literally fighting over him. Not only does the middle Danny have sex with his ur-self, but also Danny’s father apparently has gotten nasty with the boy. The movie takes Einstein’s time-travel thought-experiment about what would happen if you killed your own grandfather and turns it on its head to ask whether if you sleep with your younger self if it counts as sex or is merely a complicated masturbation? And in a word, that is exactly what Judas Kiss is. I mean, it seems that the only male in the film with a speaking part not to have sex with the kid is Danny v3 (except since Danny v3 is Danny v2 he [Danny v3] has in fact had sex with Danny v1, we just don’t get to see it, or rather we do get to see it 10 minutes into the film with Danny v3 being played by Danny v2 – confused yet?).
The long film Judas Kiss spends the better part of 80 minutes selling the short version “Judas Kiss” of which we see about half a dozen scenes. It is the sad but otherwise forgettable story of a young boy psychologically and sexually abused by his troubled father – there is nothing about the short film even as metaphor that would create such a stir so there is a huge “so what?” feeling about it. Oh and fair warning, if you are looking for something religious, it is entirely missing. It is a stretch to say that the title refers to the metaphorical betrayal of the father’s role vis the son, but that is implied at best pointing to a cynical reason for the title to grab attention that the story (stories) cannot demand on its own.
The acting was largely small-budget acceptable which is a pity. Richard Harmon (Danny Reyes – Danny v1) and especially Julia Morizawa (Abbey) appeared to strain to try to play characters instead of just types. I want to say the same for Charlie David (Zachary – Danny v2) but a technical reality kept me focused on his lips in such a way that I cannot be objective. For some reason most of his dialog was re-looped badly so that his ‘voice’ was just a little bit out of sync with his lips making it look like his part was dubbed. That was just one more distraction in a movie that seems constructed on careless distractions – it leads me to ask what was so bad about his original speaking that made the time consuming (and costly) process of re-looping necessary?
At this point it should go without saying, but I believe I still must say it: I wouldn’t recommend this film under any circumstance.
The review is complete but if you’re curious about the specifically gay sin I mentioned …
I, and I would hazard that at least a significant plurality of the audience, decided to watch the film to see Sean Paul Lockhart who played C.W., the guy in the love triangle (or square if we include Danny v2 and I think we have to) that you want to win because he loves Danny qua Danny and not what Danny might become (which is the motive behind both Shane’s and Danny v2’s relationship with the young man). C.W.’s is a small role and no more pivotal than any others in what is largely an ensemble piece. Still Mr. Lockhart gets the last acting role credit set apart from the rest with the film honorarium “and”. But imdb.com and Netflix list him first and third respectfully. Why does this matter at all? C.W. is the largest and most serious role to date for the controversial porn actor “Brent Corrigan.” Essentially this is the gay male version of what happened in the late 1980s with straight men wanting to watch controversial porn star Traci Lords in her first “legit” roles. The reason I single it out as a sin is because I believe the casting was done for purely cynical reasons: either to shore up funding for or bring attention to what is truly a terrible story. I’m not particularly ashamed to admit I would likely not have seen, and definitely would not have finished, the movie had he not been in it. As for his billing outside the film the physical person also known as Brent Corrigan has logged more time on the business end of the camera than the rest of the cast combined, so it is fitting given that. Now to ask and answer the obvious question for anyone who has made it this far: Should Sean Paul Lockhart give up his day and night job as Brent Corrigan? He is equal in talent to the rest of the cast which is actually more compliment than it sounds. However, he really does either need to choose better scripts/roles or hold out for better ones. Otherwise I can see no reason why a successful Brent Corrigan should “turn” “legit” to be a passable someone else (even if that someone else is “more” “real”). And one last bit of proof that Brent Corrigan is used to sell the piece … two of the three trailers on the imdb page feature him as their preview pic.