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Made for television 

A stereotypical take on homosexuality shatters Broken Hearts

A corny, lightweight comedy, The Broken Hearts Club makes a lame effort in expository intertitles to break down the vernacular of gay life for a broad, mainstream audience. A "newbie," one onscreen definition explains, is fresh meat on the gay scene who still hasn't come out of the closet. And a "gym bunny" is a guy who spends all his time at -- you guessed it -- the gym. Though it courts a mainstream audience, Broken Hearts would have you believe its characters speak a different language -- testament to how thoroughly this film fails to make its characters more than esoteric curiosities with little in the way of inner lives. These mini tutorials on the "gay lifestyle" make one wonder who exactly Broken Hearts is being marketed to. With its moldy clichés about gay culture revolving around Streisand and Garland, Broken is a little too obvious and a little too square for a gay audience, and a little too one-track minded for the hetero crowd, with its constantly gay-centric conversations that paint its characters more as stereotypes than real people. Broken is the kind of film in which every line of dialogue circles back to homosexuality, as if this were the only subject of conversation among gay men. There should be films with gay leads that strive for cross-over appeal, but not ones like Broken that have to render its gay characters inoffensive and innocuous to attract a cineplex crowd.

Set in the West Hollywood neighborhood of Los Angeles amongst a group of thick-as-thieves pals, Broken Hearts is "Friends" for the alternative lifestyles crowd. It's all about the love affairs, crushes, break-ups and bonhomie of these six pals who, even in their late 20s, seem to have all the time in the world to meet for drinks and softball and dispense caring, loving advice to their pals.

The leads are across-the-board cute in a bland, sit-comish way, even the token "dog" Patrick (Ben Weber) who spends the whole film lamenting how he can't score with L.A.'s hyper looks-ist prettyboys. "Gay men in L.A. are a bunch of 10s looking for an 11," he mutters, though it may be more Patrick's noxious whining than his looks that scare the boys away. Each of the Broken Hearts characters comes pre-packaged with an "issue": Dennis (Timothy Olyphant), the story's narrator, is an amateur photographer about to turn 30 who is trying to break his habit of casual sex; Cole (Dean Cain) is the love 'em and leave 'em actor stud muffin; Howie (Matt McGrath), the four-eyed neurotic, commitment-phobe; Kevin (Andrew Keegan), the dull-but-kinda-cute "newbie"; and Taylor (Billy Porter), the swishy black queen who's just split up with his steady.

Twenty-seven-year-old writer/director Greg Berlanti channels a familiar Gen-X trend of five years ago here, with his passion for incessant pop culture references, as when the fellas roundtable about their first TV crush (John Boy and Aquaman) and invoke the classic early '90s conversational gambit, "Who would you kick out of bed: Grimace or Hamburglar?" Berlanti hails from TV-land, specifically the hormone rodeo of "Dawson's Creek," where he is co-executive producer. And his polished-to-a-high-gloss snazzy dialogue makes that pedigree perfectly clear. What comes out of his characters' mouths is the pithy babble of TV series-dom. In fact, Broken often recalls the glory days of "Beverly Hills 90210," whose moralistic buddy-buddies would sit around yammering endlessly about who's sleeping with who, dispensing annoyingly snippy advice about bad behavior and acting as surrogate parents for one another in a comforting, protective way.

The men of Broken Hearts are a chatty crew who like to discuss their own sex lives as well as analyzing ad nauseam the sex lives of their brethren, like poor Benji (Zach Braff) who is almost excommunicated from the crew when he takes up with a cute sybaritic gym bunny who introduces Benji to the pleasures of chemical fortification. Like an "After School Special" Broken Hearts cuts from problem -- drug addiction, bad boyfriend -- to solution -- overdose and return to the "Friends" fold repentant and humbled by his brush with the bad kids -- in record time.

In true sitcom fashion, the clique even has a hang-out: the Broken Hearts Club restaurant, presided over by owner Jack (John Mahoney), a sweet soul who represents the gay old days of closeted behavior and drag shows and functions much like a fatherly mascot.

The mark of Broken Hearts' crummy, ersatz feel has to be hunky Dennis' much-professed love of the Carpenters, which he considers a kind of litmus test for potential boyfriend material. But not one actual Carpenters song appears on the soundtrack. Instead, there are phony, poorly-done covers that overlay the film with just one more layer of entertainment-industry fakery and make all the manufactured characters and situations that much more unreal.

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