Grade: D+

“All Over the Guy” strives to be a charming, funny transposition of that hoary old romantic comedy staple about two people–obviously meant for each other–who keep inventing idiotic rationalizations why they shouldn’t get together, into a gay setting; but in the recycling the makers have omitted the wit and style this kind of formula piece desperately needs to succeed (but rarely possesses). As written by Dan Bucatinsky (who also stars as the nerdier of the two fellows who are attracted to each other), the picture is little more than ninety minutes of bitchy dialogue leading up to a phonily dramatic outburst which purports to tie everything up in laughter and tears. It’s as shrill, cloying and manipulative as most similarly formulaic heterosexual versions of this tired scenario.

It’s also a piece that seems terribly out-of-date in cultural terms. Eli, Bucatinsky’s character, is an “X-Files” fanatic; are there any of them out there anymore? And one of the verbal jokes–Eli, you see, regularly corrects the grammar of his intended, Tom (Richard Ruccolo), which is itself an old gag–is stolen directly from the “Murphy Brown” episodes that featured Wallace Shawn. Both references are typical of the staleness of much of the material to be found here. (Eli’s “Planet of the Apes” fascination is a bit more topical due to Tim Burton’s current remake, but only just.)

Of the two leads, Bucatinsky is the fluttery, nervous one whose mannerisms quickly become annoying; he should have toned things down considerably for the big screen (he played the role originally on stage), especially in the scenes involving appearances by his aggressively permissive psychologist mom, played with shrieking abandon by Andrea Martin. As it is, he’s meant to be endearing but comes across instead as an inveterate whiner. Ruccolo, on the other hand, is mostly poised and likable as Eli’s hunkier friend Tom; unhappily, the character is saddled with a “big problem”–alcoholism–which compels him to endure a few grossly melodramatic moments, and at the end he’s given a “revelation” sequence which wouldn’t be out of place on a bad soap opera. The script also provides two best friends, Eli’s buddy Brett (Adam Goldberg) and Tom’s confidante Jackie (Sasha Alexander), who act as matchmakers for the couple while getting involved themselves. These characters are written like figures from a misbegotten “Seinfeld” clone; they’re like loud stand-up comedians who burst in periodically to snarl a few jokes and then hastily depart. No actor could do anything with such cruelly overwritten roles, but many could probably make them a tad more likable. Christina Ricci and Lisa Kudrow show up briefly in cameos, the former as Eli’s sister and the latter as a dumb-as-a-box-of-rocks voiceover actress; their presence, given the surroundings, is a sign of true friendship to the filmmakers, if not of discernment in the choice of parts they accept. And old pro Doris Roberts gets some easy laughs as a receptionist to whom Eli relates the tale of his on-and-off relationship with Tom (most of the plot is told in flashback). The film is directed in fits and starts by Julie Davis: some scenes lumber on flaccidly, while others are played at a screaming fever pitch. The result is graceless in the extreme.

One of the big jokes in “All Over the Guy” involves a debate over whether Frank Oz’s 1997 comedy, “In & Out,” is an insult to gays. The argument is never settled, but one can say with certainty: not as much as this movie is.