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Film Review: ‘Burning Blue’

Top guns in love struggle against institutional homophobia in a tone-deaf melodrama well past its sell-by date.

Trent Ford, Morgan Spector, Rob Mayes, William Lee Scott, Cotter Smith, Michael Cumpsty, Michael Sirow, Mark Doherty, Chris Chalk, Tracy Weiler, Gwynneth Bensen, Jordan Dean, Johnny Hopkins, Haviland Morris, Karolina Muller, Dylan Rafferty Brown, Tammy Blanchard.

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.

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Film Review: 'Burning Blue'

Reviewed on VOD, New York, June 6, 2014. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 104 MIN.

Production: A Lionsgate release of an Articulated Pictures production in association with Harbor Picture Co. Produced by Andrew Halliday, DMW Greer, Arthur J. Kelleher. Executive producers, John Hadity, Mike Harrop, Sig De Miguel, Stephen Vincent. Co-producers, Lester Petracca, Nicholas Petracca, Michael Sirow, Andrew Tobias.

Crew: Directed by DMW Greer. Screenplay, Greer, Helene Kvale, based on the play by Greer. Camera (color), Frederic Fasano; editor, Bill Henry; music, James Lavino; music supervisor, Ruy Garcia; production designer, Robert Savina; art director, Jack Ryan; costume designer, Amy Lynn Zwart; sound, Mikhail Sterkin; sound designer/supervising sound editor, Marshall Grupp; re-recording mixers, Cory Melious, Tony Volante; associate producers, Rick Buhr, Dan Critchett, Michael Nutt; line producer, Kamen Velkovsky; visual effects supervisor, David Isyomin; visual effects, & Company; stunt coordinator, Manny Siverio; assistant directors, Daniel Lulgo, Shahrzad Davani, Thomas R. Kazansky; second unit camera, Erin Henning; casting, Sig De Miguel, Stephen Vincent.

With: Trent Ford, Morgan Spector, Rob Mayes, William Lee Scott, Cotter Smith, Michael Cumpsty, Michael Sirow, Mark Doherty, Chris Chalk, Tracy Weiler, Gwynneth Bensen, Jordan Dean, Johnny Hopkins, Haviland Morris, Karolina Muller, Dylan Rafferty Brown, Tammy Blanchard.

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