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‘Broken Hearts’ is a painful cliche

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THE BROKEN HEARTS CLUB: A ROMANTIC COMEDY — ** — Timothy Olyphant, Andrew Keegan, Matt McGrath, Dean Cain, Ben Weber, Zach Graff, John Mahoney, Nia Long; rated R (profanity, drug use, vulgarity); exclusively at the Tower Theatre.

If the makers of gay cinema ever expect to gain a measure of respect from mainstream movie audiences, they have to stop making films like "The Broken Hearts Club."

Not that this ensemble piece, which bills itself as "a romantic comedy," is completely awful. In fact, it's got a terrific cast (including some pretty big names for such a low-budget indie) and some surprisingly wry and witty moments.

Unfortunately, the concept has already been done many times over, but never as well as it was the first time — 1970's "The Boys in the Band."

But that hasn't stopped a slew of first-time filmmakers from trying to break into the business by duplicating its formula. This time the culprit is writer/director Greg Berlanti, a co-executive producer on television's "Dawson's Creek," and the story line isn't far removed from that nighttime soap, though all of the characters are gay or lesbian.

"The Broken Hearts Club" revolves around the lives and loves of several residents of West Hollywood, including Dennis (Timothy Olyphant, of "Go"), a photographer who finds himself unable to commit to a long-term relationship. And though he thinks he may have found Mr. Right in the person of Kevin (Andrew Keegan), who's recently "come out," Dennis still finds a way to mess up the promising relationship.

Meanwhile, his friends have romantic problems of their own. Wannabe actor Cole (Dean Cain) floats from one one-night-stand to the next, longtime companions Howie (Matt McGrath) and Marshall (Justin Theroux) are bickering again, and insecure Patrick (Ben Weber) feels even worse when his sister (Mary McCormack) and her significant other (Nia Long) decide to have a child.

Despite the wise decision to concentrate on romantic relationships between characters rather than sexual ones, what unfolds here is rather predictable, even painfully cliched at times. But perhaps the film's biggest problem is that most of the characters fall into such easy stereotypes — the sensitive artist (Dennis), the nerd (Howie), the shallow pretty boy (Cole), even the sage father-figure (Jack, played by John Mahoney, of TV's "Frasier").

Add to that the fact that lead actor Olyphant seems a little hesitant or at odds playing a gay character. Consequently, his performance never seems all that convincing, which is fatal when he's supposed to be the most sympathetic one of the lot.

"The Broken Hearts Club" is rated R for occasional strong profanity, simulated drug use (marijuana and cocaine) and some crude humor and vulgar sex talk. Running time: 95 minutes.

E-mail: jeff@desnews.com