Tom Cruise and Kate Holmes

Slick, low-budget mix of sexiness, quasi-camp and sitcom-style dramedy will make this a popular niche rental.

From the maker of “Slutty Summer” comes another exploration of the urban gay-male soul just as nuanced and meaningful. Which is to say “A Four Letter Word” swims in the emotional shallows, oblivious to there being an ocean out there. While decently crafted, this second feature for writer-director Casper Andreas sports a protagonist so gratingly superficial it’s hard to root for his redemption. Still, the slick, low-budget mix of sexiness, quasi-camp and sitcom-style dramedy will make this a popular niche rental once it hits Netflix queues. Any theatrical exposure, as with “Slutty,” will be brief.

Frosted bottle-blonde gym bunny Luke (Jesse Archer) is a Manhattanite whose life revolves around the bar scene and nightly pickups. His latest trivial day job is at Chelsea sex-toy store Gaborhood, and he blithely acknowledges he probably won’t hold onto that for very long, either. Socially conscious co-worker Zeke (Cory Grant) tries to nag him out of hedonistic complacency. But it’s not until hunky Stephen (Charlie David) calls him a “gay cliche” that Luke seriously ponders whether he’s missing out on something.

Should he try monogamy? Trouble is, Stephen — once he’s rebounded with credulity-straining ardor from their off-putting first encounter — turns out to be a man with too many secrets, perhaps even a compulsive liar.

Meanwhile, Luke’s friend Peter (Steven Goldsmith) is newly cohabiting with boyfriend Derek (J.R. Rolley). And Peter’s restaurant boss, Marilyn (Virginia Bryan) anxiously overplans her imminent wedding, struggling to ignore potent attraction toward (and from) a female AA sponsor.

These complications are lively enough, but the writing (which reprises several characters from “Slutty”) is so aggressively surfacey that disbelief can never be suspended — not even by farcical standards.

Instead, the semi-earnest “A Four Letter Word” comes off like an insular gay sitcom, a la Paul Rudnick’s “Jeffrey,” but without the honed verbal wit.

Co-scenarist Archer expertly limns Luke’s shrill, defensive, live-for-today fringe personality. But it’s an obnoxious personality all the same, and it’s never convincing that puddle-deep Luke would ever attract Stephen, let alone lefty activist Zeke.

Nonetheless, the pic is pacey and colorful, with better production values than “Slutty.” Performers are game — and almost uniformly gym-chiseled to suit their frequent undressed moments.

A Four Letter Word

Production

An Embrem Entertainment production. Produced by Casper Andreas. Executive producers, Simon Jorna, Michael Lyon. Directed, written by Casper Andreas.

Crew

Camera (color, HD-to-DigiBeta), Jon Fordham; editor, Christina Kelly; music, Scott Starett; production designer, Urvashi Satghare. Reviewed at San Francisco Lesbian & Gay Film Festival, June 18, 2007. (In NewFest, New York.) Running time: 87 MIN.

With

Jesse Archer, Charlie David, Cory Grant, Virginia Bryan, Steven Goldsmith, J.R. Rolley, Allison Lane, Jeremy Gender, John Kaisner, William Hernandez.
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