Leo (Martin L. Washington Jr) is a fish out of water, an aspiring drag superstar who strives for a life bigger than gutting salmon at a local fish cannery. He’s stuck in Alaska with his Bible-bashing father George (Kevin Daniels) and supportive sister Tristen (Maya Washington), who undergoes cancer treatment for the throughout the film. But Leo’s life takes a turn when Declan (Matt Dallas) comes to town and they are both recruited into a boxing club by their boss and occasional boxer-in-Tijuana Diego (Jason Scott Lee).
There are some magical moments between the characters, including a great, albeit heavily edited, performance of Pat Benatar’s Love Is A Battlefield. But alas, the film falls victim to cliche moments and cheap melodrama. Exhibit A: the antagonistic figure is Leo’s ex-best friend Kyle (Christopher O’Shea looking like a skinny Armie Hammer) who is borderline obsessed with him, always picking fights and just generally having a dig. Unsurprisingly, it is revealed through a flashback that Kyle has unresolved romantic feelings for Leo that leads to violent outbursts because he’s just that straight. There’s no denial this probably happens - particularly in hyper-conservative areas and stereotypically masculine trades - but Kyle's character is handled in a very basic way. The filmmaker paints him as a bully who cannot handle his emotions but never questions why he feels the way he does or examining what triggers his outbursts. Every few minutes he pops up, pushes Leo around and gets interrupted by the unintentionally hilarious Diego, who always seems to be within earshot to yell at his workers. Declan is similarly underdeveloped and the several attempts made to give him some depth are clumsy; he shows up at Leo and Tristen’s trailer uninvited and very drunk in a scene that is purely to demonstrate his alcoholism, despite the fact that the trio spend the majority of their time in bars - why wasn't this used as the environment to reveal his addiction?
There is a distinct issue with the structure of the film. The dichotomy of a drag queen who is also a fierce boxer is a stellar idea, so the big event of the boxing match and drag showcase taking place on the same day feels as though it should be a climax, but the film continues for another thirty minutes afterwards and a lot of it feels like tying up loose ends that should have been shown already. Do we need another scene of Leo and Declan falling for each other while training when the entire film has revolved around this? Or an overdramatic fight club where they’re pitted against each other only to once again be interrupted by Diego who storms in like he’s been waiting in the next room the entire time? The only scene that makes sense is George’s - whose terrible relationship with his children is not really explored throughout the film bar flashbacks - as it serves as the reason why Leo and Tristen finally leave Alaska. Although the film is 88 minutes, it feels much longer, and I believe the way it’s been structured is the primary culprit.
I wanted to like this film. But there was just not enough to keep me involved in Leo’s life. Bearing in mind it was made on a teeny, tiny budget of $15,000, it has some great shots and fun characters, with Margaret Cho playing the most likeable character of her career bar Face/Off. I would never accuse it of not having heart, but the plot was formulaic and lacked details in the relationships which keep Leo in Alaska all this time. For fans of drag, there are a few references to the classic Paris Is Burning and arguably one or two to RuPaul, but it never does feel enough for a film with a title such as this.
- Xiao Tang