The third time’s the charm for writer-director David Lewis, whose first two gay-themed features were earnest but undercooked dramas. “Longhorns” is a whole different animal, a funny and romantic comedy about 1982 Texas fratboys experiencing some discomfiting sexual urges. Thoroughly likable indie has a shot at modest theatrical exposure, but in any case should prove a VOD favorite for gay home viewers.
Kevin (Jacob Newton) considers himself “just yer average good ol’ boy,” attending college in Austin and partaking of his age group’s usual obsession with sex. In his case, however, there’s a slight tendency to fantasize about cowboys and such — even during an athletic coupling with a cheerleader — which he’s too skittish to interpret as anything but a passing quirk. That stance is challenged by powerful attraction to new student Cesar (Derek Villanueva), who wastes no time making his orientation public by promoting “Wear Blue Jeans If You’re Gay Day.” (The slacks everybody forgot they had enjoy a campus-wide revival in response.)
Defending Cesar from his homophobic pal Justin (Kevin Held), Kevin is admirably tolerant but also in serious denial of his own urges, as frequently voiced in amusingly folksy voiceover narration. (After he pretty much hustles Cesar into the sack, Kevin rationalizes he was tricked into homosexual acts, but bears “no hard feelings.”)
Once things between them get a little too boyfriend-y for comfort, Kevin flees for a weekend with two longtime guy friends, trash-talking horndog Steve (Dylan Vox) and prissier Danny (Stephen Matzke), at Steve’s rural ranch cabin. The plan is for some gals to show up, ensuring everyone gets laid. But torrential storms shut down roads, marooning the dudes and barring the ladies from joining them. Booze, porn and not-so-idle hands soon find the trio enjoying a more intimate kind of togetherness than anticipated.
Brisk, bright and sexy romp has a sweetly sincere side but never takes itself too seriously. Retro atmosphere is evoked not just in costume/decor choices but in clever use of split-screen, while a soundtrack of original songs deftly mimic early ’80s New Wave tunes (courtesy of “Colma: The Musical” composer H.P. Mendoza, who also served as editor). Script’s ripe Texas-isms (“You’re hotter than a billy goat in a pepper patch”) are drolly outsized, hitting the right comic note without slipping into camp caricature.
One could make a case for the idea that even the casting of thesps who look considerably older than their roles is another clever genre in-joke. Actors are attractive and likable (their several full-frontal appearances suggest possible casting criteria outside acting ability), with leads Villanueva and Newton (who resembles a very young Billy Bob Thornton) especially endearing.
Shot mostly in Northern California apart from a few Lone Star State exteriors, pic boasts a modest but able production package.