Right from the first shot--a graffitted wall reads "FUCK THE WORLD"--"The Living End" brazenly proclaims its trendily nihilistic program, and for an awful moment I thought I was in for another "life sucks" epic a la "Gummo." Luckily, director Gregg Araki manages to produce a film with a bit more heart than that, but the end result is just too amateurishly made to carry the kind of angsty force that he's striving for.Admittedly, the basic premise is rather new: a gay road movie, in which two HIV+ lovers--introspective, neurotic Jon and rebel-without-a-brain Luke--flee not only from the cops but their own mounting sense of impending doom. Araki gleefully fills the screen with off-handed violence and similar unpleasantness. He's plainly looking to shock, but more often than not he's just swinging at air. Sometimes he's aiming for dark comedy (a woman finding her husband in bed with Jon shouts "this isn't the seventies!" and shoots her hubby dead), and sometimes for gritty realism. But none of it, alas, comes off terribly well, largely because the direction is too stagey. More than a couple scenes (for example, Luke's unlikely encounter with a pair of gun-toting lesbians) play like bad night-at-the-improv skits. When Araki strives for intensity, he all too often produces cartoonishness.
Acting is similarily uneven. The two male leads convincingly inhabit their very different roles, but they're unpolished performers, prone to awkward line readings. And some of Araki's self-conscious dialogue ("Stop your lascivious flirtatiousness!") sounds as garishly false as anything penned by Kevin Williamson.It's too bad, really, because underneath all the too-cool posturing is halfway decent flick about the unique hell of being young, handsome, and doomed. You get a hint of this in the tense climax, but by then it's too much too late.