Like those 99 bottles of beer on the wall, the “101 Rent Boys” glimpsed in Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey’s docu are there more to be tallied than truly fathomed. A lower body count would have allowed room for greater depth, but on its own terms this flashy blitz of sound bites and mild voyeurism does offer some insight into the diverse human reality behind L.A.’s male prostitution trade. Short feature will broadcast-preem on Cinemax in August; gay fests, offshore tube sales and possible limited theatrical exposure are augured.
Subject has been covered before (most similarly in the doc “Sex/Life in L.A.” two years ago), and “101” provides no fresh revelations. Interviewees — each paid $50 for their time, a transaction rather luridly emphasized here — deliver an interesting, wide range of comments on their physical sell-points, attitude toward customers, turn-ons/offs, sexual self-definition (several are only “gay for pay”), drug use and periods of homelessness. Each subtopic is given a “chapter” intertitle (“Losing It,” “Weird Shit,” et al.), to gimmicky effect.
Huge “cast” roster — each duly holding aloft a card with his assigned number — allows plenty of range in age, looks, ethnicity and personal circumstances, but also allows only a handful of individuals sufficient screen time to really tell their stories or tap an emotion beyond wild-side titillation. A few are memorable nonetheless, like the former Latino gang member, a Japanese “slavemaster” in full fetish regalia, obnoxious lapsed-child-of-privilege Dominic (“I am soooooo intelligent”), a boy who remembers “feeling my soul float away” when his mother died of a heroin overdose, and the runaway and transsexual who share domestic devotion as well as the world’s oldest profession.
As with their previous projects (“Eyes of Tammy Faye,” “Party Monster”), co-helmers deliver a slick, fussily stylized package that leaves no room for boredom, though high-speed approach can grow grating. There’s scant full nudity, zero onscreen sexual activity. Classical music is often deployed as ironic or pathos-cueing counterpoint on soundtrack.