The romance between Ben and Sam is built on the stuff of great pop opera: Ben the jock (Rayan Dulay) and Sam the artsy type (Jess Mendoza) are rivals in both film class debates and an upcoming popularity pageant. So it's a disappointment that the movie doesn't muster connective power the way timeless youth movies do. How could it go wrong? The answer: Ben and Sam is a thoroughly distracted picture.
Directed by Mark Shandii Bacolod, with self-conscious camera work and frilly subplots -- the most belabored of which involves a homophobe (Micah Munoz) heading towards homicide -- the love story gets lost amidst much hullabaloo.
What's crucially forgotten is the attraction. Those intellectual debates, likely meant to be sparring matches as foreplay, meander into sexless recitation. It's hard to pinpoint when the two guys started getting into each other.
We're left to rely on the easy function of stereotypes for tension. Ben is The Closeted Athlete, and therefore, must be having a hard time with his feelings. There's little evidence for it, except in dialogue about honesty (Those truth-in-cinema discussions reflect being true to yourself -- what a stretch!) and in the acceptance of a crazy, costume-changing (hence, unconventional) Mom. Yet Ben also seems to be comfortable being different around his basketball teammates from the start. So what's the problem? We're made to grasp for clues about what it is that Ben sees in -- or needs from -- Sam, and vice versa. Neither Rayan Dulay nor Jess Domingo are intense enough actors (nor do they have enough chemistry) to fake this love without the story details. When they jump into making out while working on an assignment together, we understand it only because we know working on assignments together can do that to you.
(SPOILER ALERT!) In the end, when one of them dies, the film makes a tough bid for emotionality that only comes across as a lightweight you-love-him-now-that-he's-gone because we were never really convinced to begin with. We only understand it because we know death to be the pits. But dude, what loss are you mourning?
Bonus points for casual locker room nudity and butt-naked frolicking in the garden.