GABRIEL IS A YOUNG, HOPEFUL musical-comedy composer who really needs to get laid. One seemingly fortunate evening he cruises Mark, a gay exotic dancer, on the subway and thinks he's hit the jackpot. Simple as that. Or not. When Trick, director Jim Fall's feature film debut, is really working (which is surprisingly often), it's smiling gently at the notion that anything between two people could ever be simple.

Gabriel and Mark spend an entire night looking for a place to Do the Deed, when they should be falling in love. There's some misplaced romanticism and more than a little gay fantasy involved in rooting for the Nerd and the Stripper, but Jason Schafer's amiable script is as erotic and funny as it is unlikely. The film's centerpiece is a perceptive scene set in a thumping dance club, dripping with intimidating bare-chested boys. As an initially elated Gabriel hesitantly follows the lead of a more comfortably shirtless Mark, Schafer and Fall smartly depict the way gay subcultures bump and grind against each other with an uneasiness most homo films would have you believe does not exist. In a witty bit of knowing defensiveness, Gabriel comments earlier that he feels stupid when he tells people about his musical aspirations: "I feel like a queen, and I don't think I am, but it wouldn't matter anyway if I were. But I'm not."

Fall riffs on the film's cramped, fizzing New York City milieu with laudable brevity, but he loses his rhythm when the screenplay does. Schafer has overwritten some of his jokes (characters tend to ramble without the intended comic effect), and Fall and his editor get distracted and make the mistake of further goosing some of the writer's broad bits.

The supporting players all become varying degrees of caricature, if mostly affectionate ones, such as Gabriel's best friend, Katherine, a wannabe actress played by a game but ultimately weak Tori Spelling (she doesn't have the technique necessary for throwaway lines). John Paul Pitoc as Mark can't really get past his beef status, but Christian Campbell's Gabriel carries the film. His shy confusions highlight the sweet fumblings that make Trick the right film for a date.

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