The New Twenty

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Venue: Outfest (Serious Productions).

There's a phobia that afflicts many hip young filmmakers: fear of sentimentality. The latest auteur to succumb to the malady is Chris Mason Johnson, the talented director and co-writer of “The New Twenty,” which had its world premiere at Outfest. Johnson surveys the intersecting lives of five college pals-some straight and some gay--several years after graduation. An ensemble piece reminiscent of the Brat Pack hit “St. Elmo's Fire,” the picture has an attractive cast and some sharp, intelligent writing. The one thing it lacks is a single character for an audience to care about. As a result, box office prospects seem limited, though the film may prove to be an effective calling card for Johnson and several of the actors.

Johnson and co-writer Ishmael Chawla are clearly more interested in the ambitious, hard-driving characters than in the sweeter members of the group. Andrew (Ryan Locke) is an investment banker engaged to Julie (Nicole Bilderback), a rising executive. Their relationship is tested when they meet Louie (Terry Serpico), a ruthless venture capitalist who promises to set Andrew up in business. This triangle provides most of the movie's drama. Although the obnoxious Louie spews a lot of homophobic slurs, it becomes clear that he's suppressing an attraction to Andrew. The scenes between these three climbers bristle with erotic tension and intriguing ambiguity.

Johnson has less success when he turns his camera on the ostensibly more sympathetic figures: lonely, overweight Ben (Colin Fickes), drug-addled Felix (Thomas Sadoski), who engages in impersonal trysts while longing for Julie, and Julie's brother Tony (Andrew Wei Lin), who begins an affair with a reserved professor (Bill Sage). Despite engaging performances, none of these characters emerges as anything but a type, and their relationships remain sketchy. For example, Tony initially recoils when he learns that the professor is HIV-positive, but we never see exactly how he comes to terms with this obstacle.

Ensemble movies are a challenge even for very experienced filmmakers, and “New Twenty” fails to find the telling human moments that would draw us to these self-involved or self-pitying characters. Johnson has crafted a stylish production, but he will be a better artist when he fortifies his cool, ironic detachment with more empathy and compassion.

Cast: Nicole Bilderback, Colin Fickes, Andrew Wei Lin, Ryan Locke, Thomas Sadoski, Bill Sage, Terry Serpico.Director: Chris Mason Johnson. Screenwriters: Ishmael Chawla, Chris Mason Johnson. Producers: Aina Abiodun, Chris Mason Johnson. Executive producers: Laura Heberton, Colin Stewart. Director of photography: David Tumblety. Production designer: Gregory Kenney. Music: Jeff Toyne. Costume designer: Anne Kenney. Editors: Todd Holmes, Adam Raponi.
No MPAA rating, 92 minutes.

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