Darey Debi Mazar Duke RuPaul Harold John Epperson$
With: Alan Boyce, Leland Orser, David Spielberg, Lisa Waltz, Paul Bartel.
A Robin Hood-style trio of L.A. residents — two of whom are HIV-positive — knock off drugstores to steal a pricey miracle drug in “Red Ribbon Blues.” With renowned drag specialists RuPaul and John (Lypsinka) Epperson in normal attire and prominent roles, clumsy effort might survive a theatrical foray in urban markets, but given its clunky execution and topical message, pic’s logical destination is cable and video.
Opening titles announce that Apothecary Industries is marketing a drug that, while not a cure, can delay for an additional 10 years the onset of full-blown AIDS in HIV-positive patients. Fictional drug’s price is sky-high, but for those who can’t afford it, there’s Apothecary’s lone departure from the profit motive, an “indigent” program in which 200,000 applicants vie via lottery for 7, 000 spots.
Speaking to an unseen scribe. Troy (boyishly hunky Paul Mercurio), a struggling painter who’s HIV-positive, narrates the flashback story of how he and his best friends — waitress Darcy (Debi Mazar), an intravenous drug user, and longtime couple Duke (RuPaul) and his AIDS-afflicted lover Harold (Epperson) — began their lives of politically correct crime.
Unable to afford the new drug, they liberate the drug from a succession of pharmacies, pinning a red AIDS-awareness ribbon on each handcuffed pharmacist as a signature touch. (Harold, who suffers from bouts of dementia, is usually too ill to participate.) What they can’t use themselves or anonymously distribute to needy friends, the robbers pass on to grassroots AIDS organizations. Apothecary responds by raising prices, inspiring one final raid on the company’s warehouse, where gunplay enters the picture.
Although overall tone is humorous and humanist, strangely under populated tale suffers from didactic pacing. Snappy comebacks are faroutnumbered by utilitarian utterances of the “Let’s get back to work” and “I’ve never felt so empowered” variety. Thesps give forced dialogue the old college try, but pic — which takes pains to demonstrate that anyone, from yuppie lawyers to beautiful young mothers, can be HIV-positive — is heavy on well-intentioned verbal exposition and lean on visual punch.
Paul Bartel has an amusing cameo as a pharmacist. In a toss-away insider joke, two men who have been caught in a compromising position address each other as “Quentin” and “Lawrence.”
As scripted and helmed by Charles Winkler — son of producer-director Irwin Winkler — pic is life affirming but never truly spring to life.