2by4 Movie Review
Johnnie (Smallhorne), a wiry and intense construction foreman, works for his Uncle Trump (Chris O'Neill) alongside a boisterous bunch of Irish illegals who spend their spare time drinking beer, doing coke, playing poker, and slapping a field hockey ball around in the Bronx park near where they live.
A man's man for sure (well, maybe), Johnnie is appalled by the leather pants his girlfriend Maria (Kimberly Topper) buys for him, but once he tries them on and rubs his crotch a bit he's hooked and isn't afraid to wear them in front of his rowdy friends. Well aware of his charisma, he's the king of karaoke night down at the bar. His outward confidence carries him anywhere, but his emaciated state and dependence on drink and drugs suggests inner turmoil.
He makes gay jokes to Maria, but when she asks him if he's ever been with a man, he honestly mumbles "once or twice." Hmm. Johnnie has a few secrets, and in typical cinematic fashion, they're slowly revealed through a series of fuzzy nightmares, fast flashbacks, and sleepwalking episodes.
As tension rises at the construction site -- Uncle Trump has been squandering his cash rather than paying his crew -- Johnnie seeks relief from the stress by taking a walk through some very mean streets, where he encounters an Australian (!) hustler named Christian (Bradley Fitts), who takes him to a nearby crack house for a night of sex. Christian is a real mess, a rent boy who hasn't even made it to Manhattan yet, and he latches onto Johnnie, even showing up at Johnnie's house just in time for Maria to catch them in a kiss.
Any hope that 2by4 will be a moving story of a gay man coming to terms with himself goes out the window when Johnnie, in a fit of self-loathing, picks a fight in a local bodega so he can become the victim of a good old-fashioned Bronx smackdown, iron pipe included. He follows that up with a trip to a particularly freaky bar (identified in the credits as New York's legendary and now shuttered Vault), where the gay clientele look like creatures from the deepest circle of Hell.
For a small film, 2by4 benefits by having a big-time cinematographer, Declan Quinn (who's worked on everything from Leaving Las Vegas to Monsoon Wedding), to capture the grit of the tough lives of these immigrants. Some of the scenes showing the construction crew riding around in the back of a truck and gawking at the size of Manhattan's skyscrapers are reminiscent of similar scenes that Quinn shot for In America. In both cases, they succeed at conveying the dislocation and amazement that an immigrant in New York must feel.
As for triple-threat Smallhorne, he may have been a bit close to his project to see that his audience might find Johnnie's true feelings a bit unclear. You'll walk away confused, but then again, Johnnie is more than a bit confused himself, so maybe Smallhorne has achieved his desired effect after all.
Aka 2 by 4, Two by Four.