Unable to mourn the death of his longtime partner in the closeted world of ‘60s California, an emotionally fragile English professor crafts a final day before ending it all. But life, as he has learned, finds its own path. Fashion guru Tom Ford earned high marks for this debut, from Christopher Isherwood’s novel, but the pic is something of an embarrassment. Fussy, rather than exact, Ford micro-manages each meticulously groomed shot until it's cold to the touch, and punctuates a simple story with nonlinear narrative skips that add little to the mix. He’s confused art with suffocation. Isherwood doesn’t come off too well, either. The main character plays out as wish fulfillment with dreamy boys throwing themselves at our sorrowful English Prof.; there's a Tadzio around every corner and a whole classroom of spares. It’s DEATH IN VENICE BEACH. And after sampling Thomas Mann, Isherwood hits his own literary past to grab what’s left of a sadder, if hardly wiser West Coast Sally Bowles figure for a drunken night of missed possibilities. There's even a risible twist ending O’Henry might have blanched at using. Simon Firth, looking very Michael Caine/IPCRESS FILE/’65, works as honestly as he can on this cut-rate Aschenbach, but only Polish composer Abel Korzeniowski manages to rise above the fancy wreckage.
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: If you want DEATH IN VENICE-lite, try Luchino Visconti’s much maligned CONVERSATION PIECE/’74. It’s both ridiculous & great, a glorious folly by a master.