Henry Kray has built his entire life around a mission of being invisible. As a closeted homosexual with an abusive, spotlight-hugging, right-wing politician for a father, the young lead character of ``Poster Boy" has learned to tolerate all and pledge allegiance to none.
So the first question asked by Zak Tucker's 2004 directorial debut is: Can you be a poster boy if you don't actually stand for anything? The second question is: Who cares about the answer to the first question if your film is scattered and preachy?
As scripted by Lecia Rosenthal and Ryan Shiraki, ``Poster Boy" is an overwrought story of American politics and image-making that really only gets interesting in the final act. The tale, which doesn't benefit one bit from unfolding in suspense-free flashback, builds on Henry's incredibly dysfunctional relationship with his parents -- the bullying Senator Jack Kray (solid character actor Michael Lerner) and a magnolia-scented trophy wife expertly played by Karen Allen.
As Henry, Matt Newton struggles to make viewers care that something scandalous has already happened when the film begins. In a smoke-filled interview that runs the length of the movie, Newton's college-age protagonist spills everything to a hard-nosed newspaper reporter (Steve Sheffler) -- a narrative device that's every bit as contrived and predictable as it sounds. In flashback you see the clueless homophobic senator order his gay son to publicly back his reelection campaign, and you also see what happens when Henry finally rejects acting the part of poster child for phony American family values he doesn't even believe in.
Newton leads a cast that performs significantly better than the material they've been given. Lynn native Jack Noseworthy is Anthony, a charming gay activist who woos Henry in order to out him, and Valerie Geffner demands attention as Izzie, an HIV-positive bookstore clerk (also Anthony's roommate) whose multiple personalities could each be registered to vote. This is the kind of one-dimensional script where the earnest young Republican aide (Ian Reed Kessler) not only has to be a virgin, but has to be named Skip.
Tucker, who reportedly was elevated from editor to director when Douglas Keeve (``Unzipped") left the production abruptly, might have helped his cause by approaching the film with some humor. Instead, despite occasionally witty dialogue, it's a too-serious affair that confuses displays of technique for creativity and vision. In the end, the whole thing hangs together (or not) so stiffly that you don't buy or connect with any of it.
``Poster Boy" was originally conceived as a project for the late director Herbert Ross (``True Colors"). Maybe that movie wouldn't have been any better. But on paper, at least, it was a more promising contender.