Wolfe Video,

Richard LeMay

Jason Brown

David Rudd, Brad Anderson, Alexis Suarez, Bryan West, Desmond Dutcher, Mark Ford, Karmine Alers

Unrated, 99 minutes

Picking Up The
by Michael D. Klemm
Posted online, November, 2008


Good ensemble films that examine the camaraderie between friends will always find, in me, a willing audience. Barry Levinson's Diner is one of my benchmarks of the genre. Queer examples include Longtime Companion, Love! Valour! Compassion! and Relax... It's Just Sex. Now, this one isn't quite in that league; the central melodrama often verges on camp. Nevertheless, Whirlwind, a new film from director Richard LeMay (200 American) and writer Jason Brown, nicely records the synergy between a group of gay friends whose bonds get shaken to the core by a seductive sociopath who suddenly becomes their new best friend.

David Rudd is Drake, an impossibly- handsome and charismatic stud who takes great pleasure in destroying relationships. He meets our circle of friends at a party and then watches them, like a hunter stalking game, before moving in for the kill. Drake seems like a great guy but there is something devious about him. The mask cracks in many of his close-ups; the flicker of an eye, a raised eyebrow or some lines around the mouth - evoking, for me, the way that Oscar Wilde described the first subtle changes in Dorian Gray's portrait. Red flags are raised, for the audience at least, when he asks the guys just a few too many personal questions.

The dramatis personae: Bobby and Sean (Alexis Suarez and Bryan West) have been together for three years and they're about to buy a house. Bobby is becoming settled and Sean is scared of the level of commitment that a house implies. Sean is all too happy to be going out to clubs and partying again now that Drake keeps calling the gang and not taking "no" for an answer. Desmond (Brad Anderson) is the one-night stand guy of the group and he wastes no time in bedding the sexy homewrecker, only to get a taste of his own medicine. JD (Desmond Dutcher) is a nerdy drunk (his nickname stands for Jack Daniels) with self esteem issues. He falls for Drake's efforts to pump him up with late-night informercial self-help cliches - and makes a fool of himself. And Mick (Mark Ford) has been, for a long time, mourning the death of his lover and refuses to let go. His friends have learned not to badger him about dating again, but Drake has other ideas. The wreckage he leaves is like the wake of a hurricane.

Who is this guy and what is his problem? Well, that's why I said that the film sometimes borders on camp. We hear that Drakes's lover left him for his best friend, and that these aren't the first guys who he has fucked with. A man at a bar confronts him about what he is doing and asks how many men does he has to ruin to "get back at Kyle." This explains his motivation somewhat, but Drake still remains a one dimensional prick with serious issues. To the film's credit, and I mean this sincerely, Drake doesn't turn into a psycho killer ala Single White Female in the second half and this is a good thing. A really good thing. Instead, he becomes a kind of camp villain as the film progresses, the kind you love to hate in soap operas. He is hot but he's also a little creepy. And it's fascinating, in a guilty pleasure sort of way, to watch how he methodically finds their weaknesses and plays Iago to five different Othellos.

I've concentrated so far on Drake but he's not the film's star. In all honesty, many of the best scenes are saved for the longtime friends who provide the heart of the film. From the first scene, where the five of them sit down to one of chef Mick's gourmet dinners, one gets a sense that these guys have known each other for a long time and truly get off on each other's company. It is the combined strength of this ensemble that makes you care about what happens after Drake chips away at each of them. Most devastating is the damage to Bobby and Sean's relationship.

Ironically, through all the mayhem, the guys have been trying to plan a big anniversary bash for Bobby's uncle, and his partner, who are celebrating 25 years together. Their respect for the elder couple is sweet and it's too bad that they didn't start wondering about Drake right away when he remarked, callously, "That's a lot of years of cheating on each other."

Aside from a couple scenes where Drake was just a little too much like Joan Collins on Dynasty, Whirlwind is a very well crafted and enjoyable film with convincing characters facing real issues and challenges. There is almost nothing contrived about any of their actions. It's easy to be swept up by their stories. Each of the men experience some extent of growth and new understanding after picking up the pieces from Hurricane Drake. The acting is uniformly excellent and I really believed that they were friends. I liked that the cast was racially mixed as well; Bobby is Latino and Mick is a man of color. There is also ample sex and eye candy for the voyeur in all of us. Exceptional cinematography and cutting complete the package. The ending is a little warm and fuzzy for my taste but these guys deserved a happy ending.

Fans of old Hays Code-era Hollywood movies, when the bad guy always had to get his comeuppance, will relish the melodrama of Drake's last scene. Even if you think it's a soap opera, Whirlwind hooks you and doesn't let go. It works on many levels. It's an effective drama and a great guilty pleasure. This film is a lot of fun and sometimes that's all you need. Recommended.