A potboiler if ever there was one, Hate Crime recounts what happens when Trey (Brian J. Smith), a gay man, is murdered in a town rife with homophobes. Robbie (Seth Peterson), Trey's bereft lover, sets about finding the murderer and his chief suspect is Chris (Chad Donella), his next-door neighbor who, from day one, has made no bones about his Fundamentalist Christian anti-gay feelings.

Rookie writer-director Tommy Stovall displays nearly all the tyro bad choices one can think of here. There's the thuddingly obvious music, the horribly "significant" flashback and a myriad of other ham-handed tropes to unnecessarily underline the content of every scene. What might have been an absorbing study of homophobia-fueled hatred plays at first like a teary-dreary soap opera and then gets blown up into an increasingly farfetched revenge vendetta to outdo any episode of "CSI." It all climaxes in a near-laughable encounter with the true killer and Robbie, accompanied by his dead lover's mother (Cindy Pickett), hilariously wielding guns. Trey's murder is finally shown in a flashback sequence which is endlessly, unnecessarily graphic and, indeed, may satisfy a certain wrongheaded bloodlust, given the wrong audience. Call it too much fuel to the fire in a misguided effort to bring home the tragedy of gay hate crimes.

Levinson and Smith both try hard as a "model" gay couple replete with adorable dog, but are defeated by a script which has them initially bickering about their upcoming commitment ceremony and Trey's need to raise a family. (Robbie is, naturally, devastated when Trey dies, and, feeling guilt over his reluctance about these plans, slips the ring on the finger of Trey's body in his funeral casket in a moment meant to make our eyes well up.) Bruce Davison plays a gay-despising pastor and is by now something of an eminence gris of gay indies, dating back to Longtime Companion, making one wish he would retire from this already. As a detective on the case, Giancarlo Esposito is dressed as if for an episode of "Miami Vice" and ridiculously goes by the name of Sergeant Esposito, once more emphasizing how creatively strapped this hapless enterprise is.

-David Noh