"Wild Tigers I Have Known" 

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Director Gus Van Sant has always been a producer of unconventional indie projects, from "Kids" way back in 1995 to Jonathan Caouette's "Tarnation" in 2003, a peerless docu-dream reportedly made for around $200.

The gay coming-of-age drama "Wild Tigers I Have Known" looks like it was made for about the same amount. Though not as mature a work, it does fly in the face of mainstream filmmaking with its story of a homoerotic friendship between two teen boys.

Written and directed by Cam Archer, the film follows Logan (Malcolm Stumpf), a 13-year-old misfit. The only cool kid at school who doesn't bully him is Rodeo Walker (Patrick White), who befriends him despite the assurances of everyone else that his new bud is "weird." The movie is a mix of short narrative sequences interspersed with longer sections of impressionistic dreamscapes that seem to spring from the characters' inner thoughts, usually Logan's.

The first thing you notice about Logan is that he is way too cool to be bothered by anyone in junior high. Wearing fashionable clothes and sporting an extremely hip haircut, he has potential as a rock star, actor or, maybe, director of a movie about a misfit. This makes it hard to feel sorry for him, as does the director's refusal to show much of his supposed antagonists, except in those blurry impressionistic shots.

Those non-narrative sequences can be visually hypnotic and even poetic, but they also can appear not altogether finished and even downright clumsy, occasionally giving the movie the feel of student filmmaking. This feeling is not helped by often-weak dialogue and stiff acting during the narrative scenes. The effect is supposed to be jarring, and it is, but often for the wrong reasons.

This is too bad because "Wild Tigers" had the potential to shock like "Kids" did more than a decade ago. The world needs teen movie alternatives to the likes of "John Tucker Must Die." Though commendable on its own individual merits, "Wild Tigers" is far too insubstantial to be that. (NR) S

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