Notable for bringing a gay slant to Southern racist, lynching investigation-mode thrillers, indie writer-director Kyle Schickner’s third feature, “Strange Fruit,” fumbles an intriguing concept with sluggish pacing, routine writing and a twist finale that comes off more silly than provocative. Nonetheless, pic’s slick and watchable enough to attract potential cable and DVD sales.
After an old friend is found mutilated and hanged from a tree, handsome, driven gay African-American lawyer William Boyals (hunky Kent Faulcon) reluctantly leaves New York City for the Louisiana bayou country he gladly left years earlier. The murder isn’t being investigated by good-ole-white-boy Sheriff Jensey (Sam Jones), whose racism is exceeded only by his homophobia. He has also scared off potential tipsters, including local black gays. Conducting his own investigation, Boyals (who provides pic’s sole sexual allure by going shirtless at every opportunity) gets at the truth even as he is by turns harassed, framed and attacked. Climactic revelation, pic’s only real surprise, just doesn’t work here. Elsewhere, plodding dialogue, caricatured rednecks and scant suspense-action also hamper. On the plus side, generally strong perfs and atmosphere boost a professionally assembled package.