Courtesy Photo
*** stars 89 minutes | Rated: Unrated
Opened: Friday, April 30, 1999 (in SF)
(Various play dates elsewhere)
Directed by Robert Houston

Featuring Robert Hudson, John Plander, Mike Schmidt, Ted Taylor, Dennis Boecker, Bill Kijovsky, "Big Mike" Burrelle, Steve Kovacek, Richard Bartol & Keith Ericson

Exciting documentary rides along with HIV-pos crew in daring yacht race

By Rob Blackwelder

Have you ever seen an exciting -- I mean really exciting -- documentary? A film relaying real events that has you sitting forward in your seat and wringing your hands just like when Indiana Jones was holding on to the grill of that truck carrying the Ark?

"Rock the Boat" is a shot-on-video documentary about an all-gay, all-HIV-positive crew of amateur yachtsmen flying (or sailing, as the case may be) in the face their infections with life-affirming gusto by entering one of the world's hardest yacht races, the Trans-Pacific.

"10 out of 10 for vivacity, but an exciting yacht race documentary?" I hear you sniffing.

That's what I thought going in, but filmmaker Robert Houston delivers the audience not only vividly onto the deck of this roller-coaster sloop cutting a wild, perilous swath through the Pacific Ocean from California to Hawaii, but also into the lives of its crew, their larger mission of hope and the kind of camaraderie and animosity that's inevitable when you put 11 men on a small vessel for two weeks without showers.

Heart-stopping top-side race footage -- enhanced and invigorated by Kevin Hayes' triumphant, adrenaline-charged score -- is cut with cabin testimonials from the diverse crew and sailing glossary asides that gear up the audience for some of the films most bracing moments. It's not for nothing that we learn the term "round-up" means a yacht tipping deeply on its side, which requires a quick righting to avoid watery doom.

A blatant gay pride pageant that vigorously waves the rainbow flag, "Rock the Boat" succeeds wildly in creating a thrilling atmosphere, even if it does beat the poignancy drum a little too enthusiastically in the interview segments.

The crew includes, among others, a scruffy Valley dude, an old salt, a fay cook who used to be a man of the cloth, a nervous landlubber with low T-cells, a full-blown AIDS sufferer with a sunny disposition and an over-zealous, risk-happy captain -- and every one of them takes turns waxing poetic about success with protease inhibitors or pontificating about their greater purpose. It's touching, but it gets a little old. These guys seem relentlessly determined to turn everything into a metaphor for AIDS.

But on the other hand, each time the hull is shown glistening in the sun, painted with the names of 300 AIDS victims the crew calls their guardian angels, it's hard not to tear up a little.

The "Real World"-style confessionals coupled with some captured-on-camera confrontations and romance give "Rock the Boat" its humanity, but it's the sailing footage that gives it a spectacular pulse.

As if the race isn't exciting enough by itself, the Survivor spends much of the contest neck-in-neck with an all-female crewed competitor and later has to out-run a hurricane. Indy Jones, eat your heart out.


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