In my mind, "In the Flesh" belongs to the second wave of queer cinema. The first wave were the coming out stories where the existence of gay characters and themes was to explore what it means to be gay. In the second wave, the gay characters exist not solely to be gay, but on an equal playing field where their homosexuality is simply part of who they are in the context of a larger story. In this case, the story is a murder mystery. As refreshing as it is to have a story with gay characters where the story isn't about being gay and as agreeable as the movie is on many levels, it's not a very good murder mystery.
Oliver (Dane Ritter) is a hustler in Atlanta and thankfully writer/director Ben Taylor doesn't make him into the two stereotypes you often find in movies about prostitutes--he is neither the whore with the heart of gold, nor is he a strung-out junkie hustling just to get his next fix. Philip (Ed Corbin) is a cop assigned to investigate drug dealing happening at the Blue Boy, a bar where gay hustlers meet their johns. Philip and Oliver get to talking and connect on some levels. Philip hires Oliver, they have sex, and Philip tries to make their connection more than economic. Oliver resists. When one of Oliver's regular johns is murdered, Philip intervenes in the investigation, providing Oliver with an alibi and walking away from his job. The scandal causes Oliver to lose his apartment, Philip invites him to move in, and the two become enmeshed in the murder mystery with Oliver and Philip in danger.
I'm sure I just made it sound more logical than it actually is. Unfortunately, the relationship that is supposed to drive all of the action, that between Oliver and Philip doesn't work. Part of this is writer/director Taylor's fault. (He admits that it moves too quickly and that he had to cut a scene that explained how the relationship developed. In his commentary track, he says that the cut scene is on the DVD. Unfortunately, it's not, so we'll never know if the scene would have explained everything or not.) However, actor Ed Corbin has to take some of the blame as well. He never projects any real warmth, so it's hard to believe that Philip has fallen in love with Oliver. Dane Ritter's performance is stronger than Corbin's, but I don't sense any romantic or sexual heat from him either. Because of this, it's hard to believe that Philip would risk his career to help Oliver. If you don't believe that, then the rest of the movie becomes difficult to accept.
On top of that, there is a secret from Oliver's past that is revealed in the course of the movie that both defies logic and police procedure. I don't want to give the specifics away here, but it doesn't work for me. On one level, if you know anything about police procedure, the secret won't work for you the secret defies police procedure. ("Law & Order" and "C.S.I." fans beware! The strange thing is, Taylor says in his commentary that the scene is based on actual events--although they took place in South Africa--if I recall correctly--so that may explain the difference in crime scene investigation. Unfortunately, the movie's version doesn't, so it's hard to believe that American police investigators didn't see through this lie.) I simply don't believe the events could have happened the way they are described. And, in revealing this truth, Philip has to accept something that he as an officer of the law should not be so quick to dismiss.
If you can overlook those flaws (and I do, up to a point), this is an enjoyable enough film with a reversal at the end that I appreciated. Some of Taylor's commentary track is truly interesting, although I think he tells us much more about his personal life than he needs to.
My suggestion is that you rent the film before you invest in it. If you like this, then I highly suggest you check out "Rites of Passage." You might also like "Skin & Bone" (which I don't care for personally) and the French film "Criminal Lovers" (another that I don't care for, but at least find more interesting than "Skin & Bone").
(...)2001 Joe Edkin