Norman Mailer's first feature filmmaking effort stars the director and his two longtime collaborators Buzz Farbar and Mickey Knox as a trio of gangsters holed up in a ramshackle New York apartment, drinking, braying, and fighting.
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Made before, after or the same night as the abominable Wild 90, Norman Mailer and buds take it up a notch in Beyond the Law. It is still terrible filmmaking but anything is an improvement over 90, an indecipherable mishmash of inebriated bravado not worth the celluloid it is printed on. In Law there is more of a storyline, a larger cast of characters, a variety of location and some sloppy jump cutting that is more frazzle than dazzle by auteur Mailer who chips in another incoherent performance along with his smooth operator pals.
Law opens in a NY precinct with a line-up in progress. Plenty of tough talk improvisation and poor recording render it banal immediately. There is more of the same in rooms with suspects being grilled by indecorous cops who believe physical force is the best motivator. The mayor (George Plimpton) visits to see if the cops are playing by the rules and walks away clueless and convinced they are. Off duty our heroes meet up with the ladies and juxtapose their down time with their on the clock shenanigans, quite prevalent as the Knapp Commission would later show.
Mailer has the bare bones of a decent story that might have had some traction in the hands of a semi-competent filmmaker but as in Wild 90 old Norm and cast decide to clumsily improvise their way around as a boom mike makes surprise entrances in scenes attempting to capture some of the garbled dialog while the actors attempt to keep straight faces. Plimpton in particular shot from ankle angle does a poor job at doing either. Mailer of course is not about to be upstaged and mid-picture he decides to adopt an Irish accent which also fails to make him any more intelligible to translate. Rip Torn as suspect Popeye offers up the film's only interesting character and decent performance but he's not around for long while the abrasive Mailer wallowing in stumbling self indulgence refuses to go away. Terrible film? Yes, but Mailer's done worse.
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