Top guns in love struggle against institutional homophobia in a tone-deaf melodrama well past its sell-by date.
When Quentin Tarantino riffed on the homoeroticism of “Top Gun” in his famous cameo from the otherwise forgotten 1994 indie “Sleep With Me,” little could he have known that, two decades later, the LGBT community would get a fighter-jock opus to call its very own. Optimistically dubbed “Brokeback Top Gun” in some quarters of the Internet, writer-director DMW Greer’s “Burning Blue” certainly harbors such outsized ambitions, but they’re poorly matched by Greer’s leaden direction and a didactic screenplay about the tortured lives of military personnel living in the shadow of President Clinton’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Bearing a distinctly musty odor confirmed by its 2011 copyright date, this day-and-date Lionsgate pickup never achieves dramatic liftoff.
Poorly concealing its origins as a stage play (first produced in London in 1995), “Burning Blue” unfolds mostly as a series of stilted, talky scenes set in and around a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier where a couple of hotshot pilots find themselves getting too close for Uncle Sam’s comfort, in and out of the cockpit. To all outward appearances, Lts. Daniel Lynch (Trent Ford) and Matthew Blackwood (Rob Mayes) are a couple of straightlaced — and straight — young recruits with loyal wives/girlfriends waiting for them at home and, if they play their cards right, a couple of highly competitive slots at the Navy’s Test Pilot School. But all those smoldering glances Lynch keeps trading with the guitar-strumming Blackwood in their shared barracks come to a head during a night of shore leave in New York that begins like “On the Town” and ends up somewhere close to “Cruising.”
Greer, who was a Navy chopper pilot himself, certainly deserves credit for wanting to shine a light on the difficult lives of LGBT servicemen working in a climate of thinly veiled persecution — a situation, an end title card informs, that has only marginally improved since the repeal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” in 2011. But good intentions don’t count for much in art, especially when Greer muddies his own with a fairly ludicrous subplot involving a dogged NCIS investigator who suspects that a “gay cult” may be responsible for three seemingly unrelated fatal flight accidents (the implication being that a gay soldier would rather crash and burn than risk being outed).
It doesn’t help matters that Ford and Mayes both seem to have been chiseled from the same block of wood, with no fairy godmother around to turn them into real live boys. Even if they did, they’d still have to speak or react to dialogue like “Taxpayers get nervous if they start hearing their warriors sniveling” and “We are warriors paid to defend the country, not spill our guts and frolic in the daisies” — a mission that might have stymied even Laurence Olivier.
Given its subject matter, “Burning Blue” turns out to be a surprisingly chaste affair, though nearly all of the actors — even those playing allegedly straight characters — seem to have been directed by Greer to leer at one another with the intensity of sex-starved Victorian maidens. Of the principals, only William Lee Scott shows signs of a real personality as a coy Southern pilot who doesn’t ask or tell, but always seems to be one step ahead of the game. Staged with a complete lack of visual energy, the pic manages to make even its occasional shots of fighter jets in flight about as exciting as a minivan rounding a corner.