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Friday, March 12, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

Pretty boys and melodrama, all with a heart of gold in 'Latter Days'

Seattle Times movie critic

Los Angeles, according to C. Jay Cox's new movie "Latter Days," is a dangerous place, fraught with peril, from the "Welcome to Hell" sign shown in the movie's first moments to the scary possibility that your best friend just might take your most painful, private moments and make a music video. And it spells danger for a sad-eyed young Mormon missionary named Aaron (Steve Sandvoss), new in town, who finds himself mysteriously attracted to the gay party boy (Wes Ramsey) next door.

The ultra-buff neighbor's name is Christian, and that's the first warning we get that "Latter Days," though well-meaning and likable, suffers from a tragic heavy-handedness. It's more melodrama than drama or love story, and Cox, who wrote "Sweet Home Alabama," seems to have never met a stereotype he didn't like. Except for Aaron, every Mormon in the film is uptight, repressed and hateful, lit with a chilly gray light. Even Mary Kay Place, as Aaron's firm-lipped mother, can't inject any warmth into her subplot.

And Christian, initially introduced to us as a shallow slut (he accepts a $50 bet that he can seduce Aaron), is magically transformed into a Good Person, volunteering with AIDS patients and learning how to love. Nothing wrong with that, but does the movie have to be so black-and-white about it? "There is nothing, Christian, nothing about you that is not skin deep!" thunders Aaron early in the movie, just in case we didn't get it.

Movie review


Showtimes and trailer

**
"Latter Days," with Steve Sandvoss, Wes Ramsey, Rebekah Jordan, Amber Benson, Khary Payton, Jacqueline Bisset, Mary Kay Place. Written and directed by C. Jay Cox. 108 minutes. Not rated; suitable for mature audiences (contains nudity and sexuality). Harvard Exit.

Nonetheless, Cox does manage to make us care about Aaron and Christian — no small feat considering how often he drowns out his actors in hellish dream sequences or pointless banter among the employees at the restaurant (owned by a chatty Jacqueline Bisset) where Christian works. Both Sandvoss and Ramsey bring a touching vulnerability to their performances, transcending the sometimes overwritten dialogue. They create a genuine chemistry, bonding awkwardly over laundry and favorite movie lines, and you root for them, hoping against hope that all will turn out OK.

Cox is making his directorial debut here, and it's clear he's still a beginner; many of the scenes are staged awkwardly (he's got a fondness for noir-ish window blinds, which too often obscure faces), and too much of the plot is driven by coincidence. But his film's gentle message is a welcome one: that love is a force that can transform us, whoever we are.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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