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The Fluffer

(2002) ** 1/2 Unrated
95 min. First Run.

Imagine your surprise, returning home with your rental copy of Citizen Kane to discover that you've accidentally been supplied with Citizen Cum, a gay porno. For L.A. newcomer (no pun intended) Sean McGinnis, it's the Pandora's video box that leads him into a new life of possibility and depravity in Wash West's The Fluffer.

West (a.k.a. Wash Westmoreland) wrote and co-directed (with Richard Glatzer) this part-expose, part-romance that plays not unlike a more sedate, low-budget, sexual-orientation-flipped version of Showgirls or Boogie Nights. As such, it may have a limited appeal. But The Fluffer does have some meat to it (okay, pun intended), in part due to West's own experience as a neophyte L.A. gay porn director, and in part due to his clever development of the themes of narcissism and the relationship of sexual confusion to self-destruction.

The aforementioned McGinnis, ably played by Michael Cunio, becomes instantly obsessed with the iconic star of Citizen Cum, the impossibly well-built Johnny Rebel (Scott Gurney, once of TV's Baywatch and doing the best he can). Since McGinnis is an aspiring filmmaker, he rationalizes his way into a job as a cameraman at Janus Films, home to Johnny Rebel. Soon, he's asked to "fluff" Johnny (meaning to stimulate him enough to be camera-ready), which becomes a regular occurence emblematic of the film's clever blending of fantasy fulfillment and dark excavation. "Johnny," you see, is actually Mike, a "gay-for-pay" porno star who's involved in a long-term relationship with a female stripper named Babylon (a sharp Roxanne Day). Mike's infidelity isn't just a career, as it turns out; he sleeps with other women, and is curiously aroused by Sean.

In the end, West overreaches his grasp, losing his hold on the pivotal character (the balance between Johnny as symbol and real character tips to the former) and failing to pull off the dramatic heights of his third act. Before that collapse, though, West provides some small insight into the gay porn industry (like the observation that every film is aimed at the apparently huge Midwestern farmer audience), some good chuckles, and the occasional moment of clarity (a scene where McGinnis gets a lapdance from Babylon incisively nails the brilliant confusion of fantasy and ecstasy). Though The Fluffer often exhibits the claustrophobic camerawork of the low-budget indie, West gains credibility from a familiar supporting cast of elder character actors as the underdeveloped porn veterans (like Richard Riehle, Robert Walden and Taylor Negron) and provides the requisite cameos from porn stars and gay icons (ooh, Ron Jeremy...ahh, Chi Chi LaRue).

Ultimately, the The Fluffer is less than the sum of its, ahem, parts, but remains too seductive to ignore.

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