A fairly potent treatment of homophobic machismo set in the overlapping worlds of amateur boxing and working-class North Jersey cities, "Cock & Bull Story" nonetheless fails to fully distinguish itself from prior movies. Likely best path is to go for small-screen exposure, where production's modest scale will look better.

A fairly potent treatment of homophobic machismo set in the overlapping worlds of amateur boxing and depressive working-class North Jersey cities, “Cock & Bull Story” nonetheless fails to fully distinguish itself from prior movies from “Mean Streets” to “Good Will Hunting.” Originally shown as “Southside,” more colorful if misleadingly raffish new title (also the original play’s) and current gay-fest dates suggest producers might now pin hopes on selling tale by its homoerotic content -deliberately repressed and invariably unpleasant as it is. Gay male auds thus lured, however, are likely to feel rooked. Likely best path is to go for small-screen exposure, where production’s modest scale will look better, and mainstream viewers will benefit most from futility-of-hate message.

Script that betrays its legit-stage origins and competent but uninspired direction by first-time feature helmer Billy Hayes (best known for his autobiographical Turkish-prison memoir “Midnight Express” and its 1978 film version) don’t elevate material’s pedestrian aspects. Result holds attention, albeit in a somewhat heavy-handedly downbeat manner unlikely to stir great critical or word-of-mouth enthusiasm.

Travis (Bret Roberts) is an up-and-coming boxer championed as the next “white hope” by aging manager-trainer Pascoe (Greg Mullavey), for whom he’s clearly a last shot at greatness.

But Pascoe and everyone else disapprove of Travis’ inseparable palling around with Jacko (Brian A. nee Austin Green of “Beverly Hills 90210″), pegged as a hopeless screwup — a verdict the unemployed, trigger-tempered mate does nothing to disprove. Both young men hail from depressing family circumstances.

Grim environment of pubs, clubs, industrial/dock sites and slum neighborhoods is a natural breeding ground for bullying violence, with “faggot” a phrase as pervasive as “Like, you know” once was amongst middle-class adolescents. Sensitive nice guy Travis is actually targeted for concerted “homo” rumors, despite girlfriend Annie (Wendy Fowler). These arise in part due to general hostility toward Jacko, who’s crossed local thugs led by Dumiak (Darin Heames).

But there’s also some question whether Travis’ trademark clobbering of opponents after a prolonged against-the-ropes clinch suggests latent gay tendencies. At one point, Jacko, generally touchy about his loser social status, overcompensates, setting up a severe gay bashing in which he casts Travis as unknowing accomplice.

Two long dialogue scenes between the two leads in the locker room before/after Travis’ biggest fight are tense but belabored, retaining too much of a theatrical air. Climactic revelation that Travis is indeed tortured by unwonted sexual impulses comes off as pretty crude psychologizing, especially given its foreboding in prior slow-mo views of grinding torsos during pic’s unremarkable fight segs.

Interrogated by his homosexual-panicked bud, Travis pointedly asks “Why are you so interested in queers anyway?” It’s a good question, underlining the macho-man insecurity at the root of most homophobia. But somewhat generic characters, situations and staging rob that message of the subtle, complex impact accorded it in similarly play-adapted “Urbania,” for instance.

Intentionally dreary-looking color photography emphasizes black and gray; for the most part, prod is decently handled on a modest budget. Perfs are solid without being striking enough to give pic an extra lift.

Cock & Bull Story

Production

A Pantheon Entertainment, Bailey/Hayes Prods. and Hawkemedia presentation. Produced by R.S. Bailey. Executive producers, Dennis Woods-Doderer, Brian A. Green, Greg H. Sims. Co-producer, David Toma. Directed, written by Billy Hayes, based on the play by Richard Crowe, Richard Zajdlic.

Crew

Camera (color), Ben Kufrin; editor, Gregory Plotkin; music, Pierpaolo Tiano; production designer, Scott Siedman; supervising sound editor, Erich Stratmann; assistant director, Bruce Wayne Gilles; fight coordinator, Luke Massy; casting, Zora Dehorter. Reviewed at San Francisco Lesbian & Gay Film Festival, June 23, 2003. Running time: 102 MIN.

With

Brian A. Green, Bret Roberts, Wendy Fowler, Greg Mullavey, John Prosky, Sam Scarber, P. Darin Heames, Christian Payne, David Spates, Jason Boggs, Murray Robert Miano, Jennifer Rebecca Bailey, "King" Ipitan, Kurt Caceres, Luke Massy, Elias McCabe, Kay Lenz.

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