This is a movie that offers a convincing slice-of-life portrait but ultimately fails to satisfy because not enough happens. It's a hot Christmas Eve in Los Angeles, and street hustler John (David ""Famous Brother" " Arquette) wakes up barefoot and broke. His favourite "lucky" sneakers have been nicked, and with them the $300 he was hoping to spend on a night in the best hotel in town. With the help of Donner (Haas), a naive newcomer who looks up to the veteran rent boy, John sets out to re-earn the pilfered moolah, mainly via a variety of male clients (including kindly Elliott Gould). Suffice to say, it all ends in tears and sore bottoms - - and that's about it.
It's a shame the plotline's so flimsy, because there's much that's good about Scott Silver's candid look at the grubby side of Tinseltown. The loose-knit community of the street is ably drawn, introducing us to assorted regulars who include Keith David as a queer (ie odd) John The Baptist figure, and you get a sense for the way things work there. (It seems you may bump into someone every day for a week, then they'll disappear without warning, never to be seen again.) Arquette and Haas are both excellent - suitably vague and detached, constantly insisting that their lifestyle is only temporary, yet with no workable escape strategy. And if most of the incidents the pair encounter ring true, it's because they are - Silver worked from real-life stories. You may complain about some of it - yes, it's too sentimental, and the constant Christ parallels (John is born on Christmas Day; he picks up stigmata in an encounter with a violent client) are a bit much - but you can't deny that is has anair of authenticity.
But realism, often powerful performances, little sprinklings of humour and a hip, bluesy soundtrack can only get you so far, and can't make up for a meandering, pointless narrative or characters you don't really care much about. The film may hope to draw complimentary comparisons with Midnight Cowboy, which dealt with similar issues, but it doesn't even come close. I can't see tears being shed at the end of this one.
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A convincing, atmospheric picture of life hustling on the mean streets of LA, packed with good performances but ultimately, like its characters' lives, going nowhere.