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Originally published December 18, 2008 at 2:09 PM | Page modified December 18, 2008 at 2:34 PM

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Movie review

Sketchy script, but Allen's performance rises above

"Save Me" is an honorable if not entirely convincing attempt to dramatize the dilemma of gay men trying to become "ex-gays" through the use of scripture.

Special to The Seattle Times

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Chad Allen in "Save Me."

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Chad Allen in "Save Me."

Movie review 2.5 stars

"Save Me," with Chad Allen, Robert Gant, Judith Light, Stephen Lang. Directed by Robert Cary, from a screenplay by Robert Desiderio, based on a story by Craig Chester and Alan Hines. 96 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences (contains profanity, sex scene). Varsity.

Discussion: Arthur Padilla, executive director of Seattle's MultiFaith Works, will be present after today's 7 p.m. screening to talk about the film's themes.

Chad Allen, who plays gay detective Donald Strachey on a here! television-network series of feature-length mysteries, has a very different kind of role in "Save Me."

The movie is an evenhanded if not entirely successful attempt to dramatize the dilemma of suicidal homosexuals who are trying to become "ex-gays." His wide-ranging performance is the best thing about it.

Instead of the sophisticated Strachey, who has settled down with a steady boyfriend, Allen plays Mark, a tormented sex-and-drugs addict whose brother checks him into a Christian retreat in New Mexico. Known as Genesis House, its goal is to use Scripture to transform gay men into heterosexuals.

The managers, Gayle and Ted, a husband-and-wife team sympathetically played by Judith Light and Stephen Lang, are proud of the fact that they use no programming or brainwashing techniques. They rely on Scripture and an emphasis on nonsexual male camaraderie.

But Mark falls in love with Scott (played by Robert Gant), his mentor at the institution, and the infatuation turns out to be mutual — much to the dismay of the rather frigid Gayle. Ted is less worried about the relationship, which leads to a showdown at a church-sponsored dance where Scott and Mark clearly have eyes only for each other.

Shaken by the depth of their feelings, they look to the Bible for guidance. Scott finds it in a prayer he shares with his dying, deeply homophobic father (the film's most moving scene). Mark finds solace in a famous passage from Corinthians.

On one level, this role isn't such a stretch for Allen. As part of his detective work, Strachey pretended to go along with a similar "gay no more" institution in the here! mystery "Shock to the System," but Allen is playing the real thing this time. Mark is truly changed by his encounter with Genesis House, and that creates a painful dilemma.

Allen has developed a well-deserved following because of the Strachey series, which began in 2005 and added two more episodes this year. "Save Me" demonstrates both his versatility and his ability to rise above a sketchy script.

Mark has reached such a low point at the beginning of the film that it's difficult to accept his spiritual transformation, his withdrawal from drugs and his monogamous love for Scott. His tough facade crumbles too easily.

Still, Allen brings such conviction to the part that it's almost possible to look past the gaps in Mark's development. In the end, you may not buy each step he takes, but you respect Allen's attempt to make the effort seem genuine.

John Hartl: johnhartl@yahoo.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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