"Hmm...hottie central!" observes a character in Boy Culture, on leaving the Seattle flat shared by Andrew (Darryl Stephens), Joey (Jonathon Trent) and X (Derek Magyar). Truer words were never spoken, for these gay boys are definitely comely. What a shame, then, that their looks are really all they have going for them. From a novel by Matthew Rettenmund, all three characters are incessantly self-absorbed, narcissistic and deeply shallow. One supposes they are meant to represent the latest generation of post-AIDS gays--cynical, alienated, and obsessed with sex--but we've been here before, many times.

As lovingly adapted by Philip Pierce and Q. Allan Brocka, who also directed (in a vast improvement over his first film, Eating Out), Rettenmund's oh-so jaded writer's voice is almost the only element here which lifts the movie. He has a strong, often trenchantly funny--if at times too strenuously bitter--point of view, which sets this film apart from so many gay indies, and Brocka's direction wittily underlines it at various moments.

X, a hustler who loves his life and has no intention of having any romantic involvement screw that up, is one hard-bitten case, filled with contempt for everyone around him save Andrew, with whom he shares a compelling attraction. Andrew indefatigably attempts to start a relationship with him, but X keeps pushing him away. And, of course, we all know it's just a matter of time before bad-ass X has a complete breakdown and discovers his potential for love. And that is precisely where the film goes awry, as direction and performances are not up to the task of making this convincing or moving.

Patrick Bachau, playing an older, profoundly conflicted trick of X's, gives a performance of elegance and intelligence that truly distinguishes him among the cast. Magyar works hard but he, like Stephens--late of the cartoonish gay-cable sitcom "Noah's Arc"--are better at attitude than emotion. There's a long sequence involving Andrew's black family which rings rather unconvincingly, from his parents' wholehearted, Cleaver-ish acceptance of his homosexuality to a wedding scene that has him--heretofore seriously closeted--suddenly kissing an old flame in full view of the entire reception. Trent pouts and camps it up as the token flamboyant gay here, a dumb young thing whom X and Andrew parentally cluck over, with heavily marked irony.