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Latter Days

I would have thought that Tony Kush ner's Angels in America said all there was to say about being Mormon and gay, and I might have been right. At any rate, C. Jay Cox's Latter Days doesn't add very much to the discussion. And yet, as a reminder of just how far a gay Mormon has to travel to accept his sexual orientation -- far from family, far from friends, far from the only life he's ever known -- this clunky little film packs an emotional wallop. An opposites-attract comedy-drama, it's about what happens when an L.A. party boy (Wes Ramsey) meets an Idaho Mormon (Steve Sandvoss) who's on his two-year missionary trek. Sparks fly, of course. (Cox brings a soft-core moistness to the sex scenes.) But not only do these two rub up against each other, they rub off on each other. The sexual one becomes more spiritual, the spiritual one becomes more sexual.

And they live happily ever after, right? Well, my lips are sealed, which is more than I can say for Ramsey's Christian, who opens the movie by talking a straight guy into converting to the one true faith, if only for a half-hour or so. A confirmed pagan despite his name, Christian has been busy working his way through the West Hollywood phone book when Aaron, accompanied by three fellow church elders, moves into the same bungalow court. Christian makes a play for him, even bets his friends $50 that he can seal the deal. But a funny thing happens while he's working his wiles: He falls in love. Even funnier, Aaron falls in love with him, sees a soul lurking in the shallow depths of Christian's bedroom eyes. Then an interrupted kiss sends Aaron back home, where he faces ostracism, even excommunication. For although polygamy was once acceptable among Mormons, homosexuality remains a straight-to-hell sin.

That's certainly enough to pin a movie on, but Cox, who wrote the script for Sweet Home Alabama, can't seem to think outside the Hollywood box. And he doesn't have the writing chops to pull off the scenes where Christian and his friends dish it out while waiting tables at a restaurant owned by, of all people, Jacqueline Bisset. "You mean, like, Madonna?" one of them replies when asked if he believes in God. That joke is, like, so '80s. Latter Days might float off on a cloud if it wasn't so firmly grounded by Sandvoss' ingenuous charm as Aaron, and by Mary Kay Place's pitch-perfect performance as a mother who's just lost her son forever. The scenes between Sandvoss and Place are so instantly powerful that you wish the movie would spend more time in Mormon country, for this is exotic terrain to many of us, whereas the gay club scene is starting to seem like familiar territory.

Speaking of "Queer as Folk," Latter Days wants to have it both ways, rejoicing in hot sex while vowing to turn over a new leaf. But why does there have to be this opposition between the spirit and the flesh? Can't promiscuity be spiritual? And don't Mormons have sex? Cox sets up a false dichotomy, then undermines both sides. I, for one, couldn't tell whether I was annoyed by Ramsey's performance or by the character he's playing; both seem shallow, even after the conversion to relationships and commitment. And does it take a blinding light on the road to Damascus to commit to a sweet Mormon boy who happens to be a hunk and a half? Cox, who was raised in a fifth-generation Latter Day Saints family, must know what it's like to leave everything behind, but I wish he'd shown us more of what he left behind and less of what he found in La La Land, where dreams always come true, especially the wet ones.

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