Tag Archives: Paul Sorvino

Shoot It Black, Shoot It Blue (1974)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Killing caught on film.

Herbert G. Rucker (Michael Moriarty) is a cop with a chip on his shoulder. Having been recently demoted due to a infractions violation he angrily goes about his foot patrol shift on the streets of Kansas City quietly brooding over his feelings of being unfairly wronged. He then chases after a black man who’s stolen a lady’s purse. When he catches up with him in a lonely, back alley he decides to shoot the man despite the fact that he didn’t resist. Unbeknownst to him Lamont (Eric Laneuville), a high school student and amateur filmmaker, caught it on his camera through the back window of his apartment’s fire escape, which was several stories up. While Herbert thinks there are no witnesses and thus will not be caught he instead learns that he’s being charged for murder, but Lamont’s identity is being kept a secret for his own protection until the trial begins. In the meantime Herbert goes hunting for him even though he’s not sure who it is while Lamont continues to follow Herbert secretly recording, both with his camera and tape recorder, everything Herbert does, which leads to him uncovering even more crimes that he admits to.

This film is very similar to Deadly Herowhich came out a year after this one and had the same theme of a cop abusing his authority and inexplicably killing a black man while hoping, even expecting, to get away with it. While that film wasn’t perfect it still fared better than this one. Both films worked off of the public’s growing mistrust of the police departments and some of the inner racism that was on the force. That movie though had much better tension that consistently built-up while this one has long, boring segments that doesn’t feel like it’s propelling the plot. I liked the idea of showing the antagonist in a non-stereotype way where he wasn’t just this one-dimensional sociopath, but instead portrayed as someone with a very low self-esteem who doesn’t feel like he makes much of a difference and kills the other man simply as a way to have empowerment over someone else. The approach though is too leisurely with too many scenes filled with extraneous dialogue and scenery, like having Herbert attend a wedding and even visit a zoo, which aren’t compelling.

I initially thought that the casting of Moriarty was a good thing as his erratic and sometimes bizarre behavior behind-the-scenes on many of the productions that he’s worked on, both for film, television, and stage, that has essentially gotten him blacklisted and deemed too difficult to work with. I was hoping he would channel this inner craziness into his character, but instead he gives a flat performance. We see Herbert’s beaten down side, but never the hidden anger making his time in front of the camera dull and not riveting.

Sorvino as the prosecuting attorney and Earl Hindman as Herbert’s partying friend convey a lot more energy and therefore more fun to watch. Laneuville though fares best as his scenes help move the plot along while Moriarty’s moments make it feel like it’s stagnating. I was disappointed too that there’s no ultimate confrontation between them and Lamont’s ability to follow Herbert around without getting detected seemed dubious as most cops acquire a keen sense of awareness with their immediate surroundings through the dangerous nature of their job and thus I’d think he’d pick up on the fact that he was being followed/monitored much sooner than he does.

Spoiler Alert!

The twist at the end has the victim’s brother shooting the tires of a car that Herbert’s driving, all from a tip given to him from Lamont, which sends Herbert’s car careening out-of-control and eventually killing him. This was ‘street justice’ due to their belief that Herbert would never have been convicted. This though needed to be shown and not just presumed. Seeing a judge or jury acquit Herbert despite the ample evidence would’ve been more impactful. The added trial scenes would’ve also made the script more compact with the boring moments trimmed down. If the killer was indeed going to be acquitted anyways because the jury system is rigged and so he later on gets shot at while driving, is fine, but a court room battle was needed either way.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: August 4, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Dennis McGuire

Studio: Levitt-Pickman

Available: VHS, DVD-R

Slow Dancing in the Big City (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Journalist falls for dancer.

Lou (Paul Sorvino) is a successful columnist for a major New York newspaper and is known throughout the city where ever he goes. He’s been in a casual sexual relationship with Franny (Anita Dangler), an early version of what’s now called ‘friends with benefits’, for quite awhile, but he’s ready to move-on. He then meets Sarah (Anne Ditchburn) a professional dancer who’s moved into an apartment next to his. She’s getting ready to star in a big ballet production, but is finding that during rehearsals she’s having a lot of difficulty doing her routines. She visits a doctor and learns that she has a degenerative condition that will make her continued dancing impossible. If she tries to dance for even a little while more it could mean she’ll lose her ability to walk. She wants to perform one last time in the premiere of her play, but will Lou, whose just learned of her condition, be able to talk her out of it?

This was director John G. Avildsen’s follow-up to his mega-hit Rocky and many in the film going public, both fans and critics alike, were excited in anticipation at seeing his next big project. Some promos even described this as a ‘female Rocky’, but after it premiered no one was impressed. It ultimately died at the box office and tainted Avildsen, who had struggled for many years before Rocky, with a lot of low budget independent stuff that was never seen by a wide audience, as being a ‘one hit wonder’. Of course it didn’t help that he went on to direct the wretchedly bad Neighbors, but in either case this was the start of his career downfall that was somewhat saved with The Karate Kid, but not completely.

One of the things that I did like were the two stars. Ditchburn, whose only other starring role in a feature film was in the Canadian slasher Curtains, I felt was super. She was a professional dancer and initially I thought she had been the inspiration for the story, but apparently that wasn’t the case as Avildsen had already auditioned over 400 other people for the part before he settled on her, which came after he saw a picture of her and her beauty so mesmerized him he couldn’t get her image out of his head. While her acting during her audition was by her own admission ‘a disaster’ Avildsen was determined to make it work and they went through long and exhausting acting lessons until it improved. Some critics labeled her performance as ‘wooden’, but her initial frosty reaction to Sorvino, who came-off like a middle-aged poon-hound, seemed reasonable and what most other women would’ve done. The many headbands that she wears throughout was an attempt to cover-up a bad haircut that she had gotten just before filming began and in my opinion they had a sexy appeal.

Sorvino is genuinely engaging playing a prototype of famous New York columnist Jimmy Breslin and while others have played a similar type of role, including Breslin himself, I felt Sorvino did it best and his presence helps keep the film watchable. I did though question why his character, who writes for a major newspaper and known seemingly throughout the city and occasionally even gets spotted as if he were a celebrity, would still have to be living in a rundown, two-bit apartment building like he does.

The empty-headed script by actress-turned-screenwriter Barra Grant is the biggest culprit.  There’s simply no rational, logical reason for why these two complete opposites, with a drastic age separation, would suddenly go ga-ga for each other at virtually first sight. For Sorvino I could see why an out-of-shape middle-aged man would lust after a cute young thing who’s moved in next door and hope if he heaps enough attention on her he might get lucky, but I didn’t understand why Sarah would fall for a guy who was so much older. She was previously in a relationship with another older man, played by Nicholas Coaster, but no explanation for why she liked guys who could’ve been her father, even though in an effort to make her motives more understandable, there should’ve been one.

To make the concept believable the two should’ve been put into some situation where they had to rely on each other to succeed and in the process fell-in-love. It could’ve been helping each other out of some disaster like an apartment fire, or car accident. Or working together on a long-term project. Having the female protagonist then get afflicted with some ‘disease-of-the-week’ just makes it even more corny.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending in which we get to see the musical Sarah’s been preparing for is actually the best part as the stage production allows for some visual creativity, which had been otherwise lacking, but I didn’t like the tension of whether she was going to be able to make it through her illness without collapsing. The fact that she’s able to perform and only collapses the second the play is over is incredibly hokey. It also ends too abruptly with Sorvino carrying the crippled Sarah onstage where she gets a standing ovation by the audience, but no denouement showing what happened afterwards. Does she get the operation, which would allow her to walk again, or does she become permanently confined to a wheel chair and if so does that affect their budding relationship? These are questions that should’ve been answered, but aren’t.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: November 8, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 44 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John G. Avildsen

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Oh, God! (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: An atheist meets God.

Jerry Landers (John Denver) is a married man with two kids (Moosie Drier, Rachel Longaker) who works as an assistant manager at a local grocery store. He doesn’t consider himself to be religious nor does he attend church (he most likely could be called an atheist, but I assume that term was considered ‘too toxic’ of a label to put on a protagonist that mainstream audiences of the day were expected to like, so he’s just given the much softer description of being a non-believer.) One day he receives a letter in the mail stating that God would like to interview him at a certain location, but Jerry considers this to be a practical joke and throws it away, but when the letter keeps popping up at the most unlikely places he finally decides to take it seriously. He goes to the location and meets God (George Burns) who at first he does not see, but only hears, but eventually the almighty takes the form of an old man. He tells Jerry to spread the word that he exists, which Jerry does only to have it all snowball against him when everyone thinks he’s crazy and even his own family becomes embarrassed to be seen with him.

The film is based on the 1971 Avery Corman novel of the same name though the book had more of a satirical tone and the protagonist was a journalist. The film though manages to retain the same jaded sensibilities of the modern-day public, which is what makes it so amusing and for the most part quite on-target. Denver, who was known more as a singer and did very little acting both before or after this, is quite good here, but only if you can get past his bowl haircut. Burns is excellent as well and I always felt this is the performance he should’ve won the Academy Award for instead of the one in The Sunshine Boys as it easily became his signature role.

The script though by Larry Gelbart is full of incongruities. For instance the God here claims to be a non-interventionist who sets the process in motion and then lets things happen without getting involved. Everyone is given free will and he doesn’t intervene to stop suffering or ‘bad things’ from occurring because that would upset the ‘natural balance’, but then turns around and admits that he had a hand in such superficial things as helping the 1969 New York Mets win the pennant. He is also forced to become a ‘side show magician’ by performing what amounts to being magic acts, like doing a tacky card trick in front of a judge, in order to prove to Jerry and others that he really is the almighty. Yet he then becomes shocked to find that Jerry’s simple word-of-mouth as well as having Jerry pass out God’s ‘calling card’, which is nothing more than a white card with the word God on it, as not being enough to somehow convince others of the same thing.

There’s also a weird conversation, which I found loopy even as a child, where God tries to prove a point by explaining to Jerry that people only dream in black-and-white, which apparently was an accepted belief a long time ago. This idea has later been found to be incorrect, which is good as I’ve always dreamed in color, but it’s still off-kilter to have this supposedly all-knowing God argue a talking point from a debunked myth.

The performances by the supporting cast help  and in fact I consider this to be Teri Garr’s best role as I found her character arch to be more interesting than Denver’s. The aging Ralph Bellamy is good as an aggressive defense attorney and I also like Barnard Hughes as the overwhelmed judge. William Daniels is amusing as Denver’s snippy boss and a type of authoritative character he’d put to perfection years later in the TV-show ‘St. Elsewhere’. Paul Sorvino gets a few laughs too in a send-up of an over-the-top TV evangelist.

The only one that I had a problem with was Donald Pleasance who gets fourth billing, but only 2 lines of dialogue. With such a versatile talent as his you don’t want to waste it by giving him such a small role and unless a lot of his work here ended up on the cutting room floor I’m genuinely surprised why he even took it.

The film is mildly entertaining, but ultimately quite benign and nowhere near as ‘profound’ as some considered it. Nonetheless it was a big hit and even knocked Star Wars out of the top spot for 1-week. It also spawned 2 sequels as well as a TV-movie called ‘Human Feelings’ where Nancy Walker plays a female God set to destroy Las Vegas with a flood unless Billy Crystal, who plays an angel, can find 6 virtuous people that live there.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 7, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Carl Reiner

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Lost and Found (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Fighting keeps couple together.

Adam (George Segal) is a college professor vacationing in France whose car collides with that of British divorcee Tricia (Glenda Jackson). He tries to get her to write a letter admitting that she was at fault, but she instead writes the exact opposite while doing it in French, so he wouldn’t know. When he finally catches on to this he tracks her down at the ski resort and again collides with her this time on skis. Eventually they find a way to reconcile and even fall in love before finally marrying yet when they return to the states they start fighting again over just about anything until it seems that is all that they do.

Sloppy, poorly structured romance should’ve never been given the green light. The characters are bland and one-dimensional and the humor cartoonish while the couple’s relationship is strained to the extreme. The story has no momentum and the inane fighting seems put in simply to give it some comical conflict that leads nowhere and eventually becomes tiring.

The main problem is that the two reconcile too quickly. Viewers who watch these types of films enjoy wondering whether ultimately the couple will get past their differences and tie-the-knot, which is what compels them to keep watching, but here any suspense of that is ruined when they get married within the first half-hour and thus the arguments that they have afterwards is anti-climactic. The film would’ve worked better had the two remained antagonistic. The conflict could’ve started in the French Alps and then continued onto the college campus by having the Jackson character work as a prof in the same department as Segal and had their animosity only slowly melt away when they’re forced to work on some project together with the wedding bells then coming in only at the very end.

What makes this movie odd is that it reteams Jackson and Segal as well as the writer/director team of Melvin Frank and Jack Rose who all did A Touch of Class together just 6 years earlier. One would presume that this would be a sequel to that one with Segal and Jackson playing the same characters that they did before, but that’s not the case. In retrospect that’s how it should’ve been played and it would’ve then avoided having to show the dumb, over-the-top way that the two meet here, which is so forced and corny that it cements this has being a bad movie before its even barely begun.

The supporting cast manages to add some life. I got a kick out of Maureen Stapleton as Segal’s free-spirited, hippie-like mother, but she was only 52 at the time and didn’t even have any gray hair making her look much too young to have given birth to a middle-aged man in his 40’s and was in fact only 9 years older than Segal in real-life. Paul Sorvino is amiable as a talkative cabbie and the segment where he and Jackson try to resuscitate Segal after a failed suicide attempt is the only mildly amusing bit in the film.

The ski resort scenery is picturesque although it was actually filmed at Lake Louise in Alberta, Canada and not in the French Alps like the movie suggests. You also get to see John Candy in a brief bit and Martin Short in his film debut, but everything else falls painfully flat and I couldn’t help but feel that the entertainment world had passed both director Melvin Frank and Jack Rose by. They had written and directed many successful comedies during the 40’s, but what passed off for funny back then now seemed seriously dated and it should be no surprise that they both only did one more movie after this one.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: July 13, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 46Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Melvin Frank

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD-R, Amazon Video

A Touch of Class (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Sexual liaison turns romantic.

Steve (George Segal) is an American businessman working in London who meets Vickie (Glenda Jackson) a divorced mother of three. Despite being married he immediately takes a liking to Vickie after sharing a cab ride with her and makes no secret that he’d like to have a ‘no-strings-attached’ sexual affair. Vickie approves of the idea, but wants a more romantic setting, so Steve whisks her off to Malaga, but things get complicated when Steve’s friend Walter (Paul Sorvino) shows up on the same trip and constantly gets in the way.

Surprisingly this limp comedy got nominated for Best Picture, which is really hard to believe since there isn’t anything all that funny or original about it. In fact it seems very similar to another picture that writer/director Melvin Frank did in the ‘60s called The Facts of Life, which starred Lucille Ball and Bob Hope and had almost the exact same plot.

The biggest problem is that it doesn’t take enough advantage of its comical potential. Having Steve’s wife Gloria (Hildegard Neil) show up with the kids unexpectedly and want to go on the trip with Steve should’ve been played out much more as it was ripe with comic potential, but instead the film nixes this idea after introducing it and nothing is more annoying than a movie, which sets-up an interesting idea only to then backtrack on it.

Paul Sorvino’s character is equally wasted and his presence could’ve created far more complications that never transpire. In return the movie falls back to a lot of lame situations that seem thrown in for cheap laughs like Steven suddenly going through back spasms, or challenging a 13-year-old kid to a golf game that has nothing much to do with the main plot and basically comes off as forced and lame. The arguments or ‘spats’ that couple have are equally inane and this culminates with the two throwing furniture and clothing at each while in the hotel room, which sends this supposedly ‘sophisticated’ adult comedy dangerously close to becoming benign slapstick instead.

The third act in which the two rent out a flat and continue to have the affair even after they return to London doesn’t improve things. Jackson is supposedly this single mother and yet after she moves into the flat she seems to essentially abandon the kids who disappear from the movie altogether. It also seems hard to believe that Steve’s wife wouldn’t at some point start to catch on to the fact that something was going on as these things eventually will catch up with a person and there’s just so many close calls one can have before finally getting caught and yet here that never happens.

The fact that Steve is very open about his marriage to Vickie and even confides in having previous affairs makes Vickie seem really stupid for wanting to get involved with him in the first place. Supposedly she just wants casual sex as much as he does, but then refers to their trip as a ‘romantic’ one making it seem like she has the idea that this will turn into a relationship. When things do finally sour one doesn’t feel sorry for her as she was old enough to better and anyone with an IQ over 2 would’ve seen the red flags from the start, so why didn’t she?

The only interesting aspect about the movie is that Jackson won her second Oscar for it, which was highly unusual since she had just won her first one 2 years earlier and quite unexpected making many people consider a recount was necessary as they were convinced it had to have been a mistake. It’s not that Jackson gives a bad performance because it is actually quite good, but Marsh Mason, who was the predicted front-runner, gave a superior one in Cinderella Liberty and she should’ve won it.

For years many people wondered what it was about Jackson’s acting in this film, which is a very ordinary fluffy movie at best, that made her stand out to the Academy judges and beat such long odds. A few years back I read somewhere, and I can’t remember where it was at this point, that the reason she won it was for one particularly moment in the movie where Segal tells her that the relationship is over, but instead of her breaking down and crying like the script asked for she puts her head into her hands and remains silent for several seconds. Director Frank argued with her about doing this, but she insisted she wasn’t the type of woman who cries easily and therefore doing it the other way seemed more natural to her and in turn this impressed the judges when they watched the movie because her character responded to something in a completely unexpected way, which apparently was enough for her performance to stand out.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: June 20, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 46Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Melvin Frank

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

That Championship Season (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Their reunion turns sour.

On the 25th anniversary of when they won the state high school basketball championship four members of the team get together with their coach (Robert Mitchum) to celebrate. George (Bruce Dern) who made the winning shot is now the town’s mayor and up for reelection. James (Stacy Keach) is a high school principal while his younger brother Tom (Martin Sheen) has become a vagabond alcoholic. Phil (Paul Sorvino) is the most successful of the group even though his business methods aren’t always ethical. It’s his revelation that he has had an affair with George’s wife that sends the gathering into a freefall where long dormant secrets from all the members slowly come to the surface.

The film was written and directed by Jason Miller, best known for playing Father Karras in The Exorcist, and the play version, which he also wrote won him the Pulitzer Prize. Despite the rave reviews of the play I was genuinely shocked how lifeless and boring the film is. It takes 35 minutes before any real conflict is introduced and once it does it’s all very contrived. The opening half-hour is nice as it was filmed on-location in Scranton, Pennsylvania, which was Miller’s hometown, but the second half is done completely inside one home, which makes it very stagey. Flashback sequences were done to help make it more cinematic, but unwisely cut by the film’s producer.

The plot thread dealing with Sorvino’s character having an affair with Dern’s wife seemed so utterly contrived that I literally had to roll my eyes when it gets brought up. It’s almost like they had to throw in something to keep it interesting so why not just make it the oldest, most clichéd soap opera-like thing they could think of. What’s worse is we never see this woman in question despite her being the catalyst for all the drama nor any explanation of where she is or what she is doing.

The acting is good for the most part, which is the only reason I’m giving this thing even 2 points, but at times the performers have trouble rising above the melodramatic material including the scene where Keach tries to put on a cry while describing his mistreatment by his father, which sounds very fake and unintentionally laughable.

Sorvino walks around with jet black hair except for a big white patch on the back of his head, which is distracting and gets shown a lot, but never mentioned by any of the other characters. I’ve never seen anyone with that condition, except for someone who intentionally highlighted it like that and even so I don’t think that was the case here. The producers should’ve had that spot dyed black like the rest of his hair to avoid the distraction, or had one of the other characters joke about it in passing, so the viewer didn’t have to keep wondering why they are the only ones seeing it and nobody else was.

The final scene where the men listen to a tape of when their team scored the winning shot, which brings tears to their eyes, is the only segment that rings true and hits home how high school for some people can be the highlights of their whole lives and everything afterwards is all downhill. The rest of the movie though is an exercise in boredom and filled with sterile characters dealing with generic issues.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: December 9, 1982

Runtime: 1Hour 50 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Jason Miller

Studio: Cannon Film Distributors

Available: DVD

A Fine Mess (1986)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: They buy a piano.

Spence (Ted Danson) works as an actor and during a break in shooting, which is being done at a local horse track, decides to take a rest in a nearby horse stall. While he is there he overhears a conversation between two men (Stuart Margolin, Richard Mulligan) in the next stall discussing how they are going to inject a horse with a drug that will cause him to run faster and therefore make him a ‘sure thing’ in the his next scheduled race. Spence decides to use this information to bet on the horse and make a killing at the track with the help of his friend Dennis (Howie Mandel), but the bad guys realize that they’ve been found out and try to nab Spence and Dennis before they are able to place the bet. Spence and Dennis try to hide from their pursuers by attending an auction where they inadvertently purchase a piano, which they must later deliver to a rich customer (Maria Conchita Alonso) who is dating a mobster (Paul Sorvino).

I was genuinely shocked at how limp and threadbare this script was and how it routinely resorted to some of the most empty-headed humor I’ve ever seen. Much of it consists of long and extended chase sequences that aren’t particularly exciting or imaginative and rely on gags that we’ve all seen a million times before.

The casting is also off. Margolin can be a great character actor, but not in this type of role and Mulligan’s dumb guy routine and facial muggings is to me the epitome of lame. Danson doesn’t seem particularly adept at physical humor and shows no real chemistry with his co-star. Sorvino, who walks around with a limp, gets a few chuckles, but believe it or not I came away liking Mandel the best and actually found him to my surprise to be the most normal person in the movie.

The intention was to make this a completely improvisational exercise, which would give the actors free rein to come up with lines and scenarios as they went while relying on the broadest of story blue prints as their foundation, but the studio wanted more of an actual script and forced director Blake Edwards, who later disowned this project, to approach the thing in a more conventional way. The result is a mish-mash of nonsense that doesn’t go anywhere and makes the viewer feel like they’ve done nothing but waste their time in watching it.

All could’ve been forgiven had they at least played up the piano moving bit, which is what I was fully expecting. The inspiration was to make this a remake of the classic Laurel and Hardy short The Music Box with a scene, like in that one, where the two stars must somehow move an upright piano up a long flight of stairs. However, instead of showing this it cuts away to the next scene where the two have somehow without any moving experience gotten the piano up the stairs with apparently no hassle, but what’s the use of introducing a potentially funny comic bit if you’re not going to take advantage of it?

I still came away somewhat impressed with the way that it managed on a very placid level to at least hold my interest. I suppose in this era where scripts with a plethora of winding twists tend to be the norm one could almost deem this a ‘refreshing’ change-of-pace in its simplicity. Those that set their entertainment bar very low may enjoy it more.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: August 8, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Blake Edwards

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Cruising (1980)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Cop infiltrates gay underground.

A serial killer is attacking gay men who frequent New York’s S&M bars and young cop Steve Burns (Al Pacino) is chosen to go undercover as a gay and infiltrate these ‘leather clubs’ in order to bring out the killer. However, the job requirements demand that he must be completely isolated from the rest of the force and not carry a gun, which eventually causes a strain on his personal life particularly in his relationship with his girlfriend Nancy (Karen Allen).

The film, which is loosely based on actual events that occurred during the late 70’s and captured in Gerald Walker’s novel of the same name, was considered quite controversial at the time of its production. Protestors who felt the film accentuated the gay stereotype tried to create loud noises during filming and even shine reflective lights on the actors in an attempt to mess up the scenes. In retrospect it is hard to imagine that director William Friedkin is in anyway homophobic as just ten years earlier he did the brilliant adaptation of The Boys in the Band, which remains to this day one of the better films dealing with gay issues. The story certainly does wallow in ugly elements, but also makes the point to describe this as an extreme subculture and  not reflective of the gay lifestyle as a whole, which in my opinion made the film seem more enlightening to New York’s gay underground of a bygone era and less propaganda as its critics ascertained.

To some degree I liked the explicit uncompromising approach, but after a while it became one-dimensional and predictable. The scenes of the killings are unnecessarily prolonged and some of the segments showing large groups of men having sex at a bar come off as overly-stylized and looking reminiscent of a homoerotic scene from a Fassbinder film.

Friedkin does manage to add a few unique touches including having a well-built black man wearing nothing but a jock strap enter the room during police interrogations and violently slap suspects who he felt weren’t telling the truth, which according to one of the film’s advisors was an actual technique used by police at the time.  The way the movie captures the monotony and frustrations of investigating a complex case such as this and leaving open that there may have been more than one killer is also well done and helps elevate this a bit from the usual formulaic cop thriller.

Pacino gives a gutsy performance including one scene showing him tied up in bed naked during some kinky S&M play, but the character’s motivations are confusing particularly the way he so quickly accepts this difficult assignment that most others would be very reluctant to do. The fact that his experiences ends up affecting him psychologically isn’t compelling since that becomes a foregone conclusion right from the start.

Paul Sorvino is perfect as the police captain. His gray hair dye was a little overdone, but his limp was great. Allen has a good moment at the end when she tries on Pacino’s leather hat and coat that he brought home with him and Joe Spinell makes the most of his small role as a corrupt cop who harasses gays only to end up patronizing gay bars on his off hours. You can also spot Powers Boothe in an early role as a hankie salesman and Ed O’Neil as a police detective.

The idea of exposing the dark side of police life is no longer original or interesting and the film’s shock value has lessened through the years and thus failing to leave any type of lasting impression or message.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 15, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Rated R

Director: William Friedkin

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video