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Third Man Out
cast: Chad Allen, Sebastian Spence, Jack Wetherall, Woody Jeffreys, and Sean Young

director: Ron Oliver

95 minutes (15) 2005
widescreen ratio 16:9
TLA DVD Region 2 retail
[released 4 February]

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Barbara Davies
With its frequent nods to famous wisecracking detective couple Nick and Nora Charles, this enjoyable TV adaptation of the first of Richard Stevenson's Donald Strachey mysteries should perhaps have been called 'Thin Man Out'.

New York private eye Donald Strachey (Chad Allen) is 'married' to senator's aide Timmy Callahan (Sebastian Spence). The openly affectionate gay pair trade humorous repartee, drink martinis, and even own a cute white terrier (called Dr Watson rather than Asta), and their most pressing concern is affording the urgent repairs needed by their leaking roof. Then obnoxious gay activist John Rutka (Jack Wetherall) comes on the scene, flashing a huge cheque.

Self-appointed exposer of gay hypocrites, the self-righteous, always preaching Rutka has made enemies of numerous prominent NY citizens by outing them in his monthly 'Rutka Report'. Now he's been shot in the leg, an attempt was made to set his house on fire, and he's receiving anonymous death threats. He needs Strachey's help. The problem is, Strachey doesn't believe a word either Rutka or his partner Eddie (Woody Jeffreys) say.

When Rutka's badly burned body turns up, a guilty Strachey sets about finding the activist's killer. Top-of-the-list of suspects must be the three men lined up for exposure in the next issue of Rutka's bulletin; unfortunately, Rutka took their identities with him. As Strachey's investigations take him deeper into the murky world of closet queens, well hung porn stars, crooked politicians, dubious priests, and seedy motel owners who spy on their customers, the stakes get higher until not only his but Timmy's life is at risk.

While it's refreshing to see a gay detective in action for a change, nearly everyone seems to be gay and the focus on gay preoccupations is so relentless I felt at times like echoing the weary aside muttered by one character: "Enough already with the gay!" But the plot is as winding and tricky as you could ask for from a PI mystery and includes the requisite beating up of both the detective and his unreliable Toyota. There's also a suitably atmospheric soundtrack, and, for those who like full frontal male nudity, your luck's in. With hindsight, though, some scenes are actually a bit of a cheat, staged to throw the viewer off the scent, but hey, Agatha Christie did the same.

Allen (Dr Quinn Medicine Woman) and Spence make a handsome, likeable pair, though their preference for martinis is unlikely, with Spence providing the sophisticated light relief to Allen's more blue-collar tough guy (playing Nora to his Nick, as it were), though Allen does get to deliver a few of the one-liners. The craggy Wetherall (Queer As Folk US) manages the impossible task of adding complexity to, and even evoking a measure of sympathy for, the unpleasant Rutka, and Jeffreys is convincing as his hunky, grieving lover. But Sean Young (Blade Runner) is wasted as Rutka's sister.

Apparently more of the Donald Strachey mysteries are being filmed for TV, again starring Chad Allen and Sebastian Spence. Look for Shock To The System next.

DVD extras: trailers and photo gallery.

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