Damion Dietz’ emotionally powerful drama Dog Tags (now available on DVDfrom TLA Releasing) tells the intersecting stories of Nate (the sexy and soulful Paul Preiss), a handsome and good-hearted young man who is joining the Marines at his fiancée’s urging, and Andy (the cute and sweet Bart Fletcher), an aimless young gay man who is looking to escape his life any way he can.
Nate’s never been given much faith, even from his well-meaning single mother (American Graffiti’s Candy Clark, in a subtle, nuanced performance), and he’s aching to meet the father who abandoned him as a child before he goes to war. Andy has left his infant son with his loopy mother, a faded former actress who gives the child cough syrup to quiet him down. Andy meets Nate when both guys are unwittingly set up to perform in a porno film, which neither of them are prepared to do. Andy’s car dies and Nate gets it running again, and the two head off together, Nate to surprise his fiancée and Andy to see his mother in Hollywood before “hitting the open road.” Fate throws the two different men together, and Dog Tags becomes a surprising love story.
Dietz directs his actors very well, and gets genuine, smart and sexy performances from his two stars, particularly Preiss. The relationships throughout the film, from Andy’s creepy friendship with his pal Chris, who takes him to what appears like a hustler’s buffet, to Nate’s strained bond with his mother, are handled with a mature complexity that you don’t always see in gay-themed films. The chemistry between Preiss and Fletcher creates a smoldering tension (as seen in this clip), and part of the pleasure of Dog Tags is in watching the two characters expose their vulnerability and unexpected desire for each other. At first, Nate is joining the Marines for all the wrong reasons, but it takes Andy’s probing and help to get him to face his decision with maturity and a dedication he was never allowed to have.
While it is a crime that nothing has been done to dismantle “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” while good soldiers are being discharged indiscriminately, Dog Tags respects and honors our troops while showing that sexual orientation is not always easy to pin down.
Review by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.