In Alan Cumming's latest (and generally disappointing) film Suffering Man's Charity, he plays an effeminate cello teacher who's slowly losing his mind. If only the rest of the movie matched up with Cumming's over-the-top performance, there might be a few more complimentary things to say about the flick. As it stands, the thing wavers between broad comedy, dark humor and mild thriller territory, never once settling on an approach ... and suffering mightily because of it.
Actor/director Alan Cumming (who last directed the very solid flick known as The Anniversary Party) seems to be going for "cult status" with Suffering Man's Charity, but it's the filmmaker's central performance that'd probably prevent any status from arriving. The guy plays a skittery, borderline manic nutjob called John Vandermark who has a soft spot for handsome young men, and quickly becomes over-smitten with any hunk who'll give him the time of day. Unfortunately, Vandermark's most recent "boyfriend" is a scheming and opportunistic young writer (David Boreanaz) who accepts John's hospitality and gives very little in return.
At first our poor protagonist gives the hunky Sebastian every benefit of every doubt, but once a handful of bills start rolling in, Vandermark reaches his boiling point ... and poor Sebastian ends up dead, which allows John to appropriate the young stud's manuscript for his very own. And so he does, becoming a wildly popular novelist in the process.
That's all the surface stuff that Suffering Man's Charity has to offer: angry lovers, hurt feelings, massive phone bills, accidental demises, literary theft and (allegedly) comedic bouts of post-murder guilt. The first two-thirds of the flick feature Cumming at his most egregiously unhinged. It's as if Daffy Duck was playing the lead in a fairly standard cable flick in which everyone else is playing the material fairly straight. But once the murder stuff goes down and we find Vandermark haunted by the spirit of Sebastian, Charity just rambles right off the rails.
The supporting cast is truly a mixed bag; Boreanaz and Henry Thomas provide a welcome respite from Cumming's mugging, while ladies like Carrie Fisher, Jane Lynch, Anne Heche and Karen Black provide small bits of color to a movie that desperately needs 'em. But without a central character who resembles an actual human being, the story is left floundering. Sorry to say it, because I genuinely enjoy most of Mr. Cumming's stuff, but Suffering Man's Charity feels like half a vanity project and half an overbaked ham-fest. Fans of the actor will still want to check the flick out, although I seriously doubt this disappointing experiment will win Cumming a whole bunch of new fans.