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Confounded expectations

Attraction's not fatal enough in gay stalker film

Were you ever on an amusement ride that flung you around and took you up slow and down fast and swirled you and twirled you and rattled your teeth until you thought you couldn't stand any more? Then it threatened you with something even worse and you wished you could be anywhere but there, but then it didn't follow through and you were never so disappointed in your life? Chuck & Buck is like that. A lot of it is painful to watch. You don't know who to feel sorrier for, emotionally retarded Buck, who is trying desperately to revive a childhood friendship, or mature Chuck, whose carefully ordered, upwardly mobile life is upset by the reappearance of his old buddy. Just when it seems the situation can only be resolved by murder, suicide or both, but the intensity peters out with far less catharsis than you've been dreading/looking forward to.

With its agonizingly dorky main character, the film Chuck & Buck most resembles is Welcome to the Dollhouse. While that was about a girl and ended in adolescence, this is about a boy — an eternal boy — whose adolescence is only the prelude, the backstory. Apparently Chuck and Buck were inseparable in childhood until the age of 11, when Chuck's family moved south to Los Angeles. Buck stopped developing emotionally at that point. He made it through high school somehow but never went to college or took a job. Now he's 27, and for the last five years he's been taking care of his sick mother, who has died.

With his sole source of love gone, Buck's thoughts turn to the last person he loved. He invites Chuck to his mother's funeral, and Chuck arrives with Carlyn, the woman he lives with and intends to marry.

Because Buck is so odd, we can't be sure whether he's telling the truth about a game he claims they used to play — "Chuck & Buck Suck & Fuck" — or whether it's a long-held fantasy that has become reality in his addled brain. As for Chuck ("Most people call me Charlie now"), it isn't clear as to whether he is in denial, in the closet or rightfully indignant.

Lest you think Buck even weirder than he is, let me tell you a lot of guys fool around with each other when they're young. Puberty must come from a Latin word meaning "guys fooling around with each other." Most of them, if it was a phase they outgrew, never talk about it; some even block it from their memories.

After Chuck returns to L.A., Buck pulls up stakes and moves there, where he becomes a full-fledged stalker. Charlie and Carlyn try to be polite at first, but the more Buck calls and drops by unannounced at Charlie's home and office, the more Charlie tries to avoid him. It doesn't help that when Buck is granted an audience, he sometimes seizes the opportunity for a brazen sexual overture.

Buck spends his days staking out Charlie's office from a children's theater, where he gets the idea of winning Charlie back by writing a play that will remind him of the old days. He makes a deal to rent the theater and hires Beverly, the house manager, to direct Frank & Hank. Beverly sees the play as "a homoerotic, misogynistic love story." To Buck it's just a fairy tale about a witch who comes between lifelong friends who wander into her forest. He doesn't see the dark side, but neither is he aware of one in any of the classic fairy tales.

One source of humor in the film is that Buck dresses as dorky as he acts, but people keep complimenting his wardrobe because — well, it's L.A., where nobody ever tells the truth about anything.

Buck does every inadvertent thing he can to sabotage his own play, including insisting on casting a no-talent actor named Sam as Hank because he looks something like Charlie. Actually the actors are brothers, Chris (Charlie) and Paul (Sam) Weitz, the team that made American Pie.

Director Miguel Arteta (Star Maps) has cast most of the major roles with talent from parts of the industry other than the acting ranks, and it works pretty well. Michael White (Buck), who wrote the screenplay, has been a writer-producer on "Dawson's Creek" and "Freaks and Geeks."

Beth Colt (Carlyn) is the film's co-producer and has a background in producing and talent management. She's fine, but another actress could have given the character more depth. The only real actor among the top five is Lupe Ontiveros, who plays Beverly with far more nuance than she showed as Selena's killer.

Adding to Chuck & Buck's indie cred, Arteta shot it on digital video. But the director has to share the blame with the writer for their film not living up — or down — to our expectations, because they worked together to build those expectations. We don't want anything really bad to happen to Buck or Charlie, but after all they put us through, they shouldn't get off scot-free either.