Duncan Roy’s Gotham-set update of Oscar Wilde’s novel flaunts a cavalier disregard for narrative logic, character development and Wildean wit. Instead, the favors an incoherent walkabout through New York’s decadent ’90s art scene, trailing a faint whiff of sour grapes and a rancid trace of homophobia. Film is hung on vague, revamped references to the original text but, despite the ingeniously complex video installation that constitutes Dorian’s “picture,” lacks the visual sense to forgo a solid story spine. Pic, which closed London’s Lesbian & Gay Fest and opened New York’s similarly themed NewFest, dramatically polarized auds, foreshadowing further niche exposure.
Dorian is played by David Gallagher (TV’s “7th Heaven”), and Roy films him with an obsessiveness that smacks more of directorial voyeurism than character-based narcissism. Whereas in Albert Lewin’s 1945 production, Dorian’s face (in Hurd Hatfield’s portrayal) becomes paler and more mask-like as the decades pass, Gallagher tends to project the same blank openness throughout.
Dorian segues from innocent do-gooder to homicidal maniac, with Roy’s script supplying no discernible rationale for his slitting young boys’ throats, save for Dorian’s understanding of his homosexuality. Meanwhile, the video installation endlessly mirrors him from every angle through kaleidoscopic split-screen, his still-beautiful image reflecting not age but, eventually, AIDS (a more than dubious equation).
Some characters fare better, others worse in Roy’s reinterpretation. As showgirl Sybil Vane, Aleska Palladino is dealt an impossible task as she gibberingly explains her atrocious performance of Juliet as proof of her love for Dorian. Nevertheless, her character’s lack of grace or resonance (very much in contrast to Angela Lansbury’s glowing vulnerability in the 1945 version) render her own act of violence a poor pivotal turning point in Dorian’s moral conversion.
As Lord Henry Wotton, Christian Camargo scores more convincingly in a role previously played (brilliantly) by George Sanders, spinning a web of Wildean aphorisms around an acolyte who will soon surpass him in deed if not in word. And Noah Segan, as video artist Basil Hallward, madly in love with his model, conjures up a measure of two-way visual communication in a film singularly lacking in same.As Dorian dreamwalks through a sinister crack den or a remodeled jail-cum-studio, the control Roy demonstrated in his debut “AKA” comes to the fore. But whenever the pic reverts to its secondhand story arc, it becomes awkward, and not a little homophobic.
Tech credits are sometimes spectacular, particularly in the scenes involving the video installation. Brian Jackson’s HD lensing contrasts the pure architectural lines of Dorian’s austere upscale loft with the garish tones of degenerate nightlife, the whole buoyed by suitably grandiose classical music.