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A serial killer brutally slays and dismembers several gay men in New York's S&M and leather districts. The young police officer Steve Burns is sent undercover onto the streets as decoy for the murderer. Working almost completely isolated from his department, he has to learn and practice the complex rules and signals of this little society. While barely seeing his girlfriend Nancy anymore, the work starts changing him. Written by
Tom Zoerner <Tom.Zoerner@informatik.uni-erlangen.de>
Body parts are being found in the Hudson River and there have already been two recorded homosexual murders that show signs of being done by the same killer. With no leads in the case, Captain Edelson offers Officer Steve Burns the chance to go undercover on the basis that Steve looks similar to the victims that the killer tends to pick. Steve goes undercover with no badge and no gun, only reporting to Edelson; meanwhile the murders continue as Steve begins to lose himself little by little.
I had never seen this film until just a few weeks ago but I was looking forward to it as I remember it being one of the movies that was reviewed by critic Mark Kermode on his `cult corner' he used to do as a weekly part of a radio 1 show - he liked it and generally I trust him. The film opens with a similar enough premise: cop goes undercover to try and catch a killer. We have all seen this genre before and think we know where it is going to go - cop will start to `go native' gradually and will struggle with it even after he has caught the killer - right? Well, yes and no. The film tries to do this but it manages to make a real pigs ear of it throughout, coming across like it really didn't know what it wanted to do. I am aware that there is another version of this out there somewhere and that this was mercilessly edited but I cannot know that that would be any better without seeing it.
The film is all over the place. Burns' investigation goes nowhere for the vast majority of the time and just seems to focus on gay clubs with lots of men in leather or jock straps. Meanwhile the killer continues to carry out his murders and the rest of the police sort of float around in the background. It is difficult to really get into the film because the narrative is so very disjointed and it is almost impossible to have anything to follow or care about: basically the first 90 minutes is `there's a guy out there killing and a cop going to gay clubs - oh, look what they do' and then the final 20 minutes is `oh, we got him now' - and that's it! So with no traditional narrative I assume that the film wanted us to follow the character of Steve. However, Steve is a nonentity, even being played by Pacino! He has no character and we see nothing to suggest that he is really being either attracted or repulsed by the life he sees. The end of the film is so open in regards him and just doesn't make sense. With these two threads going nowhere, all that remains is a film that looks at the gay scene in the city.
In this regard I was worried that it was going to be all PC when the film opening with a disclaimer that I assume was put on to placate gay groups. However I immediately understood why the makers had put this caption onto the film - and it wasn't even enough! The homosexuals in this film are, to a man, deviants who all hang out in clubs having anonymous sex with multiple partners in clubs and parks. I know the film apologises for this but it doesn't excuse the sheer lazy clichés that it wheels out and seems to just hope that we are shocked by the repeated graphic image. The seedy nature of the film means that it hasn't lost it's shock ability (even with gay relationships no longer a taboo in the media or normal life) - but if this is all it has then it is hardly worth it. If Friedkin had a vision then it has been lost because there is no sign of life in this film - by the end of the film everyone seems to have given up on it and it just, well, grinds to a halt. I won't even go into the various threads that just seem to go nowhere - DiSimone turning up all over the place for no reason for example.
Pacino is a great actor but he cannot do anything with a character he cannot understand. He is absent from the film and is given nothing to work with. Certainly the `slow burn' he is required to do is not fitting his style, but it is made harder considering the script doesn't know about Steve either and Pacino has nothing to build to. Sorvino is OK but has nothing to do, likewise Allen is just floating around as well. The only thing that really kept my interest was how many famous faces were in early roles here - Powers Booth, Mike Starr, Spinell and Weeks to name a few.
Overall I was looking forward to this film and wanted to enjoy it. I was not let down when it failed to do the usual things I expected from the genre set-up, but I was letdown by the fact that it did nothing else with it. The plot is all over the place and the performances are poor simply because they have no characters - Steve is impossible to understand and every gay character is a cliché. An amazingly inept film when you consider the names attached to it.
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