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Urbania * Written by Daniel Reitz and Jon Shear * Directed by Jon Shear * Starring Dan Futterman

Dance to the age of rage, Ring out the days of ACT UP, ring in the days of act out, Don't like waiting in long lines at the tollbooth? Spit on your change before you give it to the tollbooth lady, Don't like how your son's teammate settles an argument? Beat up his dad to a bloody pulp, Can't stand SUVs? Run them off the road, Cell phone users? Grab a gun and shoot the damn thing out of their hands, Oops, missed.

There is actually a woman in Urbania who takes her dog and nukes him in the microwave. Is it rage, or is she having a Susan Smith moment? We don't really know: So much that happens here goes by us as if in a dream, The impulse to take umbrage and the urge to give in to despair seem to come from the same subconscious place in this approximately 100-minute growl of a movie.

Most of the rage in Jon Shear's nervy feature directing debut seems to be emanating from a switchblade on two legs named Charlie, Played with an excellent coiled-up alertness that we have never seen from Dan Futterman (the bratty son of The Birdcage), Charlie is on the rag about something heavy and seems hell-bent on spreading it around.

Charlie's not getting much sleep, and he looks it, In between waking reveries about his former boyfriend Chris (Matt Keeslar, a credible excuse for insomnia), Charlie prowls the city streets at night in search of a leather-jacketed stud (Samuel Ball) who "is fast approaching the flip side of sexy," In between chats with a sympathetic straight bartender (Josh Hamilton), Charlie vents his urban-queer frustrations at fast-talking panhandlers and the hetero couple upstairs who flaunt their sex life in his face.

In the film's best-written scene, Charlie gets picked up by an actor with some identity issues: a bisexual who needs you to know he's not into the queer scene. So much of Futterman's task in this movie is reactive, and he's terrific here, smoldering at the guy's macho posturing and then calling him on it with dukes poised, ready for a fight.

Charlie's perpetual pissiness borders on the suffocating, and for good reason: Queer rage in and of itself is as parochial a focus for a movie as tollbooth rage or "get whitey" rage, Even if Charlie has ample justification for his petulance--and he does, as we eventually discover--it is not enough to throw onto a screen a character whose raison d'etre is to absorb and diffuse the accumulated angst of a wounded audience.

Daniel Reitz, adapting the screenplay from his play Urban Folk Tales, seems to understand this. But his attempts at balancing the scale with demonstrations of Charlie's humanity are a bit ersatz: reaching out to a cute homeless man (Bent's Lothaire Bluteau) or comforting a chum dying of AIDS (Alan Cumming), By contrast, there is a genuine catharsis to be had in Reitz's resolution, which sidesteps its own "Charles Bronson in Death Wish "--fulfillment fantasies in favor of an alternative meant to heal.

Urbania keeps us on our toes with prismatic photography to match its elliptical narrative as well as casting choices that are intentionally disorienting (all of the actors playing Charlie's objects of desire are cut from the same male-model cloth), It's a depressing ride, When it's over you should feel as if your own life is just a bowl of cherries.

Newsday critic Stuart is the author of the upcoming The Nashville Chronicles (Simon and Schuster).
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Stuart, Jan
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Movie Review
Date:Sep 12, 2000
Previous Article:Indirect director.
Next Article:Alice and Martin.

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