Tuesday 1 April 2014

Uhomo (2014)

Director: Travis Mills
Stars: Michael Hanelin, Colleen Hartnett and Michael Coleman

A new month means a new Running Wild review at Apocalypse Later and I have a couple remaining until I blitz into the 52 Films/52 Weeks project in July. So which titles to review until then? Well, this particular new month coincides with April Fools Day, the day of movie horrors which, this year, saw NPR cover the remake of Citizen Kane, starring and directed by Keanu Reeves, and Full Moon Features announce the long awaited big budget reboot of their Puppet Master franchise with Justin Bieber as Andre Toulon. By comparison, Running Wild merely announced that their close partnership with 5J Media was ending and they were going their separate ways. Like they're going to dump James Alire? I'd buy into Charlie Band casting the Bieber before I'd buy that one. The icing on the cake though was a faux commercial posted yesterday for an awkwardly named eau de toilette, Uhomo, a direct spoof of a commercial for the very real and just as awkwardly named (at least in English) eau de toilette, Uomo, from Ermenegildo Zegna.

I watched the original earlier today and wasn't surprised. It's the usual mix of short beards, open shirts and continental European coastal roads, shot for the most part in classic black and white but with some colour scenes to spice it up and make it contemporary. The editing is fast and the music thoughtful but, in case we didn't catch that, we're given some tumbling chess pieces to ram the point home. Of course there's a lovely young lady for our hero to drive home to. There's even a spectacularly modern piece of architecture that receives its own on screen credit, the Casa Malaparte on the isle of Capri, which was prominently used in Jean-Luc Godard's 1963 film Le Mépris or Contempt. Why the marketing maestros working for Ermenegildo Zegne remembered Contempt when puzzling over their ad campaign, I have no idea, but it works well enough. In Italian 'uomo' means simply 'man', and it's a quintessentially male conceit to have carved out a house like this on top of a dangerous cliff in Mussolini's Italy.

No wonder Angela Merkin Haines and Michael Hanelin felt that it was ripe for a spoof. The name itself cries out for a dubious joke in poor taste, but the commercial itself underlines it. Clearly, it isn't fooling anyone, this GQ cover model paying lip service to his Vogue counterpart, while delivering the requisite poses to us, as if to say that he'd much rather be warming our beds than that of the lovely lady who he happens to be stuck with. As they used to say, it's as queer as a three bob note, so that's what Running Wild promptly made in response. Of course, when bringing the video up tonight, I searched for 'Ohomo' instead of 'Uhomo' by mistake, which I certainly don't want to do again. The hateful folk at Chimpmania define the term 'inappropriate', which doesn't leap to mind here. Given the amount of gay characters Michaels Coleman and Hanelin have played for Running Wild lately, without any hint of homophobia, it seems safe to say that they can get away with a spoof like this without being called inappropriate.
The Running Wild team do a great job at mimicking the pretentiousness of the original, while adding in the sense of humour that it sorely lacked. Instead of chess pieces, we get tumbling chips. 'Poker' is an obvious pun in this spoof, even before the pair of queens are turned over. Instead of Casa Malaparte, it falls to the Tempe Center for the Arts to look contemporary, with a bestubbled Michael Hanelin winding his way to the inevitable Colleen Hartnett, who emerges from nowhere like a ghost. Of course, she's on screen only to look good and set up the finalé, which arrives in the form of Coleman as she exits stage downwards. If Uomo plays with a stairway to Heaven, perhaps she's taking the highway to Hell as she provides the piece with its ending. That's what the late, unlamented Fred Phelps would say, right? God Hates Travis. I was waiting for him to stage the double suicide that I felt was the clear next step in the original commercial, but he goes for the more obvious and, to be honest, more appropriate ending.

With Hartnett the female presence in a male gay fantasy and Coleman only arriving as a punchline, it's Michael Hanelin who has to sell the piece. I hadn't quite realised how uncomfortable he looks when he walks, but slow motion might just do that to the best of us, especially when walking up concrete steps in black and white. Where he absolutely nails his role is in the close up glances he gifts the camera, slowly turning towards it with an eye that carries ultimate confidence. It's as if he knows that it'll only take one look for the cameraman to strip naked and fall pleading at his feet. It isn't deliberate seduction, because there's no persuasion going on; it's natural seduction, all about the absolute surety that he doesn't need to persuade, merely make eye contact. No wonder Coleman is sold. Of course, it's a linguistic irony that in order to make a particularly gay fragrance commercial, Hanelin's crowning achievement was to play it straight. A bad pun isn't a bad way to end a review of a spoof for April Fools Day, right?

Running Wild's spoof commercial, Uhomo, can be watched for free at YouTube. Uomo, the original commercial for Ermenegildo Zegna can also be watched for free at YouTube.

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