Reviewed by Mike Emery, Fri., Oct. 20, 2000
CruisingD: William Friedkin (1980); with Al Pacino, Paul Sorvino, Karen Allen, Powers Boothe.
Friedkin is no doubt enjoying the renaissance of his classic, The Exorcist, despite critics' blasting the extra and unnecessary 11 minutes of drivel. That particular film challenges audiences spiritually and psychologically. Its two-hour ride through hell and back, complete with vomit and Satan, was enough to send some viewers over the deep end. Friedkin's Cruising bears some resemblance in its attempts to shock people, but, unlike The Exorcist, Cruising is more of an exploitation effort as opposed to a genuine mind-bender. The film concentrates on the gay underground in New York City, although Friedkin's take on a sexually charged mystery is more funny than challenging. Pacino plays Steve Burns, a detective trying to solve a series of homosexual murders. To do so, he goes deep undercover, pretending to be gay, hanging out in leather sex clubs (all of which are filmed in actual locations). Before long, he's in over his head, questioning his sexuality and becoming absorbed into the oft-degrading culture of a seedy underground. Much of the club footage is real, which raised the ire of many conservatives at the time of its release. Gays too were angered, claiming that the film sought only to portray homosexuals negatively. They were right. Each gay character we're introduced to is treated as a hustler, pervert, or a dummy. Pacino is at his worst here (despite a crazy dance scene). His intensity is at an all-time low despite his character's emotional breakdown. Friedkin too is at his worst. He bungles the mystery at hand and instead concentrates on bar scenes and sex shops. He even gets downright surreal. One scene in which a suspect is being interrogated at police headquarters features a huge man emerging from a room with a G-string and cowboy hat. He slaps the suspect senseless and leaves. The sequence seems straight out of a Fellini film and is never fully explained. Then again, the existence of this abominable film has yet to be explained either. The only engaging aspect of the film is the rough rock soundtrack (featuring a cut from the Germs) that enhances the gritty, dismal mood. Other than that, fast-forward to Pacino's stint on the dance floor for a few chuckles and a few lessons on how not to boogie.