Dir. Tony Piccirillo
(2004, R, 96 min)
★ ½

Writer-director Tony Piccirillo’s The 24th Day, adapted from his play, uses a lot of words, but doesn’t have much to say. It’s a claustrophobic little chamber piece where the two main characters talk and talk and talk and talk, and it’s all so very Important; they say things like, “Is that the truth-truth, or is that your truth?” “The truth is confusing,” one of them explains. When he tapes the other’s mouth shut we wish he’d tape his own as well, and then we wouldn’t have to listen to either of them.

Tom (Scott Speedman) is a shy, shaggy-haired young man who brings home Dan (James Marsden) from a bar. There’s some flirting, some small talk, followed by some not-so-small talk. It’s clear to us long before it’s clear to Dan that Tom is a weird creep and Dan should head for the exit, which is locked from the outside anyway, but still. Tom attacks Dan, ties him to a chair, and reveals that he is HIV-positive. He believes Dan infected him during an encounter five years prior that Dan doesn’t remember. He will test Dan’s blood and depending on the results decide whether or not to kill him.

We see Tom discretely hand off the blood and later get the results. Question: Who is the woman accepting this sample, and doesn’t it seem strange to her that she’s being handed a blood sample like it’s a drug deal? Maybe she’s complicit in the kidnapping. Maybe she helped him board up the windows of his Manhattan apartment, which apparently no one ever noticed him doing, not even his landlord.

Never mind.

Tom and Dan talk. They struggle. They talk some more. They trade pop culture references that are too old for either of them: Charlie’s Angels, The Love Boat, Starsky & Hutch. I suppose men in their late twenties or early thirties might be generally familiar with those shows, but for both of them to rattle off trivia with such authority — and under such circumstances — suggests that these are Piccirillo’s references and not his characters’, and that, maybe, short on material, he popped in episodes of 1970s camp classics for inspiration.

Blah, blah, blah, I wanted to be an archaeologist. Blah, blah, blah, I liked sports in college. Blah, blah, blah, human beings are too complex for sexual labels. Enough already! These two are so insipid it’s a wonder anyone has ever agreed to sleep with them. The dialogue mostly lacks the pompous, self-consciously florid language of playwrights who like nothing more than the sound of their own words, so that’s some relief; a few of these getting-to-know-you scenes might actually have been good in a film unburdened by the ridiculous tied-to-a-chair premise.

Throughout we get some haphazardly edited and incoherent flashbacks from Tom’s point of view that are intended to tease out his background. He eventually tells us the whole story, and it doesn’t change much for us. He’s still a self-important nut-job who had sex with a drunk stranger he picked up at a bar and was sober enough to remember five years later what they were wearing and whether they kissed each other behind the ear but apparently too stupid to make sure the inebriated jerk wore a condom.

I imagine Piccirillo endeavored to make a dark meditation on sexual safety and responsibility, but it’s really a shallow whine-a-thon about a couple of punks who should spend less time pontificating and more time contacting each and every person they’ve slept with. We learn that recently, after finding out he had contracted HIV, Tom stalked Dan and watched him bring another young man to his place, presumably for sex. How noble of Tom to kidnap Dan and take him to task for his sexual irresponsibility! Not noble enough, however, to step in and prevent this poor kid from being exposed to the virus. If Tom and Dan end up killing each other, it would be a happy ending because it would take them both out of the dating pool.

Want to make a truly scary film about sexual responsibility? Forget all the kidnapping melodrama. Show us an irresponsible jerk with HIV and follow him for 90 minutes as he is forced to inform all the men and/or women he recklessly endangered. The reactions of the exposed parties — shock, terror, anger — would do far more to promote sexual safety than this silly, bondage-happy psychodrama.

To see this material done correctly, rent Hard Candy, a similarly staged drama about a young girl who turns the tables on a presumed sexual predator. That was an even darker film, more finely written, more tautly directed. It played for keeps. The 24th Day just plays.