Rather less than the sum of its often striking parts, Gus Van Sant’s appealingly idiosyncratic look at a pair of very different young street hustlers is one of those ambitious, over-reaching disappointments that is more interesting than some more conservative successes.
Taking his title from a B-52s song, Van Sant begins his crooked yarn on a straight Idaho highway, where the scruffy outcast Mike (River Phoenix) succumbs to his affliction of narcolepsy and has visions of his lost home and mother. In Seattle, Mike is a sex-for-hire boy, a sensitive but raw youth who will go both ways but has the unfortunate habit of passing out on the job.
Mike’s cohort and soon-to-be best friend is Scott (Keanu Reeves). The wealthy son of Portland’s mayor, Scott is clearly hanging with the boys as an act of teenage rebellion against his family.
Then Van Sant makes a sudden, fatal shift in tone and style. The dialog begins sounding arch, the acting style becomes strangely theatrical and, for a while, the film becomes a modern, gay adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part I.
Shakespearean side of the story falls short due to Reeves’ very narrow range as an actor. Phoenix cuts a believable, sometimes compelling figure of a young man urgently groping for definition in his life. For a story about two gay hustlers, film deals very little with sex.