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Saturday, 23 August 2008

Cruising


Steve Burns (Al Pacino) is an ambitious cop that’s asked to go fist-deep undercover to find a gay serial killer. If he cracks the case, he’ll become a detective without having to do ghastly things like traffic duty. Needless to say, he jumps at the chance to climb so high so quickly.

The only slightly worrying thing is that Steve has to immerse himself in a small sub-section of the gay community. One that revolves around heavy leather. In this world, casual greetings lead to pinched nipples and heavy fistings. Sometimes it even leads to murder.

The killer in this film is ill-defined. Late on we find out that he had a troubled relationship with his deceased father and that he still writes him letters. But aside from that, we’re given no detail. We just get the vague idea that this person is ashamed of his homosexuality and therefore he has to kill gay men aplenty in order to feel okay about himself. He even tells his victims ‘you made me do that’ after he’s stabbed them.

Normally a film that doesn’t go to slavish lengths to explain its villain would merit praise, but here you find out so little about the individual, and his deeds are filmed in such a bland, mediocre way, that he fails to make much of an impact. The character isn’t satisfying on any level – not even in a guilty pleasure sort of way. He just stabs a few people and that’s that.

Although it must be said that the graphic nature of the first killing was kind of surprising – a guy gets tied up and stabbed in the back. But aside from that, it’s just a dude in shades with a badly dubbed voice killing ‘homos’ in the night (the film can’t even be bothered to come up with a catchy serial killer nickname – in the media he’s just referred to as a ‘Homo Killer’; maybe it’s meant to be a comment on the way that the media doesn’t care about homosexuals and therefore doesn’t really take an interest when someone kills them, but it makes the film even more pedestrian).

The film also doesn’t really care about its protagonist. Steve Burns is a fresh-faced cop with a nice girlfriend who goes to a few gay bars and then suddenly discovers that he might prefer cock to vag and who might have become a killer in the process of the potential cock conversion (we never know for sure if he’s become a dick devotee). But once again nothing is investigated in any depth. You never come close to knowing this man and the film never gets inside his head. Therefore his descent from eager cop to potential killer is the height of far-fetched nonsense.

In light of all of this, the only way to enjoy the film is as a piece of unintentional comedy. And there are many laughs along the way.

By far the biggest laugh is the one that occurs during the interrogation scene. You see, Burns has gone so deep undercover that he’s cruising guys to find out whether they’re the serial killer that’s on the loose. So he takes one guy back to a hotel, where they’re supposedly going to bum the night away, and Burns’ pals in blue turn up to arrest the pair (they of course know who Burns is, but they want to make it look real). So they take the two men to the station and try and sweat some information out of them. But unfortunately they’re not having much luck. They’re not getting the information they need. Hmm. What to do in these times of need? Do you play mind tricks? Do you beat the pair up? Well, one cop saunters towards a door. For a second you think he’s heading into the next room for a cup of coffee. Or maybe he wants some brain food – a doughnut. But instead he just opens the door and steps away like he’s revealing the prize on some cheesy game show. But unfortunately it’s not a refrigerator that stands in the doorframe. Nor is it a washing machine. Those would probably make more sense. No, what the police have in their possession and what they want to bestow upon their guests is a large black man who stands there wearing nothing more than a cowboy hat, cowboy boots and a jockstrap. Into the room this man walks and he slaps Pacino across the eyes before sauntering back into the adjoining room, flashing his bare arsecheeks as he goes. Seriously, what the fuck? How does the NYPD come to be in possession of a large, gay, black cowboy? And what’s he doing standing behind that door? Does he wait there for hours at a time, hoping to be let in? After all, when the door’s opened, he’s ready. Therefore he must wait there all the time, just praying to be let in so that he can slap someone around.

But it just seems so random. Here’s this serious scene and the next thing you know you’ve got a gay, black cowboy slapping Al Pacino in the face. Is this a genuine police tactic? Do they have stores of gay black cowboys to do their bidding so that they don’t have to waste their energies on young punks? Or do they do it to make their suspects look insane? ‘Who did this to your face, son?’ ‘A gay, black cowboy in a jockstrap walked into the room and hit me. I swear!’ But regardless of whether this has any basis in fact, it’s just a piece of moviemaking insanity. For the first time in ages my jaw dropped. And then I was reduced to fits of laughter.

But what makes it even better is that the cowboy turns up a second time. The second time he slaps the other suspect, just as he’s demanding a lawyer. Naturally the kid is outraged at having his rights violated and at being bullied by a homosexual African-American cowboy, but when the kid asks the cops who the guy is, they don’t answer. They just demand that the kid pull his pants down so that they can get a semen sample. One of the cops even says, ‘You’re gonna jerk off, mister.’ Yeah that sort of talk is conducive to a wank. I’ve been slapped around by a burly queen in a jockstrap and now the rozzers want me to spank my monkey for them – ooh, give me some happy time with Mr Spunky post haste.

The second funniest scene is the one where Al Pacino dances. He’s getting into the gay scene a bit but he’s still not comfortable dancing with another man. Never mind, his dance partner has the perfect solution. He has a hanky with amyl nitrate on it. So at first Al and his buddy wrestle for the hankie with their teeth and then the next thing you know Al is sniffing it like crazy. Suddenly he begins dancing like a maniac, shuddering back and forth like he’s trying to shake a hedgehog out of his ass. And then to further highlight the frenzy of the moment, Friedkin makes the frame stutter, so we’re treated to the sight of a blurry Al bobbing around like a spastic. And to make it even funnier, in-between the spastic moves and the bizarre wrestling-style poses that Al begins to do, we see a man getting penetrated by a Vaseline-soaked fist. Is this what the film is trying to say – that every straight man is only an amyl nitrate-soaked hankie and Vaseline-soaked fist away from embracing same-sex relations?

Who knows? But there is quite a strange scene at the beginning. A couple of cops roam the streets at night, discussing women. ‘They’re all scumbags’, says one (his wife has left him). They then proceed to pull over a couple of transvestites. They harass them a little bit and then one of the cops says he wants to show one of the guys his nightstick. And then he gets the transvestite to suck him off. According to this film, women are nothing more than a pain in the ass. Aggressive homosexuality is the only solace for a red-blooded male.

This of course extends to Steve Burns. At first he’s in a loving relationship with his girlfriend. But then he has to go undercover. And at first everything is okay. Perhaps riled up by the throbbing masculinity he encounters in the gay bars, he gives his girl a good seeing to. But then his interest wanes. He’s no longer interested in her. He claims tiredness, but we all know that the he’s dreaming of those delectable bear beards and those loving fists dripping with petroleum jelly. But his girlfriend should have known better. In bed he ominously tells her that ‘There’s a lot about me you don’t know.’ And although at the end they seem to get things back together, the final image of Steve staring blankly in the mirror spells doom for their relationship. Even when his girlfriend dons aviator sunglasses and a leather biker cap, he still can’t fill the vacuum that has been left now that he no longer has gay bars to cruise. Vagina just ain’t enough.

Another favourite moment from the film: at the end Burns confronts the serial killer. They stand away from each other, apparently undressing to have sex. So therefore they indulge in some casual banter. ‘How big are you?’ asks the killer. ‘Party size’, replies Steve. What the hell does that mean? Does that mean he has a hamster cock? I mean, something that’s party size is always small. A party size keg of beer is always smaller than a proper keg and a party size bar of chocolate is always teenier than a regular bar. Is he boasting that he has a micropenis? And after this Steve asks the killer, ‘Hips or lips?’ Hasn’t he got that wrong? Shouldn’t it be ass or mouth? I feel that Steve, much like William Friedkin, doesn’t really know what he’s doing.

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