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Murder Amid Trivialities

By John Anderson. STAFF WRITER

* * (2 stars) LOVE AND HUMAN REMAINS. (R)

Oh my God, there are GAY PEOPLE in the world. Oh, and by the way, a sicko serial killer is raping and murdering young women in a city in Canada. With Thomas Gibson, Ruth Marshall, Matthew Ferguson, Mia Kirshner, Cameron Bancroft. Written by Brad Fraser from his play, "Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love." Directed by Denys Arcand. 1:39 (sex, nudity, violence). At the Quad, 13th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, and the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, Broadway at 63rd Street, Manhattan.

WHEN CONSIDERING crime fiction, the idea seems natural enough: Present a cast of characters with ordinary, or even not so ordinary, problems - but in situations that are well within the limits of belief. Then, introduce murder into the mix - not as something the audience has expected all along but the way it usually happens, as a stark, raving disruption of the existing universe. The result? The grimmest kind of realism and a dramatic catharsis worthy of the subject matter.

So why isn't it done, and done often? Because it doesn't work, and it really doesn't work in "Love and Human Remains," Denys ("Jesus of Montreal") Arcand's screen version of Brad Fraser's play. The convergence of the heinous and the humdrum simply renders everything inconsequential: Personal problems lose their gravity when contrasted with the violent loss of life; murder, when treated as an afterthought to dating anxiety, loses weight. The audience feels trivialized, too - especially when the film's thrust isn't the murder at all but a septet of young Canadian urbanites wrestling with their uncertain sexuality and interlocking relationships.

David (Thomas Gibson), for instance, is a scathingly cynical waiter and former teenage sitcom star for whom homosexuality is both a wound and a shield. He lives, unthreateningly, with Candy (Ruth Marshall), a book editor and loser at love who thinks a lesbian relationship might be the answer - one the elfin Jerri (Joanne Vannicola) will be happy to provide, if she can nip Candy's budding interest in bartender Robert (Rick Roberts). Meeeeeanwhile, David's attentions are split between his Pan-like busboy Kane (Matthew Ferguson), his friend Benita (Mia Kirshner), a psychic / dominatrix, and his heterosexual buddy Bernie (Cameron Bancroft), whose attitude toward women needs some major structural overhauling.

It's one big extended unhappy family. Within this "Big Chill"-meets-"Go Fish"-meets-"Melrose Place" scenario, someone is killing young women (there is also safe and unsafe sex, which is far less shocking than the movie seems to think). Is there a parallel between the sexual violence on the street and the psychosexual injuries being sustained by our erotic tag team? Perhaps. There may also be a parallel between the "Geraldo" show and 100 chimps with typewriters. Whether it's worth the examination is a whole other question.

Here's another: Do the problems of "Love and Human Remains" belong to Arcand or Fraser? Both - one for writing banality, the other for filming it. Arcand, however, has done a lot more for Fraser than Fraser's done for him.

John Anderson, Murder Amid Trivialities. , Newsday, 06-02-1995, pp B05.

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