There is no rhyme or reason to William Friedken’s (The French Connection, The Exorcist) serial killer flick, which plays clumsily with both timeline and identity. While the killings are unique, in that gay men in New York City’s S&M scene are the prey, Friedken’s execution is non-existent and the picture is a tiresome. muddled mess.
The year is 1980. Foot patrolman Al Pacino, who we know absolutely nothing about, is brought in by Police Captain Edelson (Paul Sorvino) to go undercover and smoke out a serial killer plaguing the BDSM community in the Meatpacking District. Pacino is chosen solely because he bears a physical resemblance to other victims. That’s it, and when he’s told where he’ll be working, he shows little reticence. You see, he’s bucking for detective.
Pacino is clearly too long in the tooth for the role. In 1980, he was 40, not a very convincing ambitious beat cop. Hell, Pacino was pushing it a bit in 1973, when he was a 33-year-old rookie in Serpico. Friedken would have done better with Richard Gere, his first choice and 10 years younger.
After his perfunctory selection and acceptance, Pacino just goes from club to club, bar to bar, pick up spot to pick up spot, cruising. Pacino is less acting the role of a man than being a worm on a hook. Not a lot of heavy lifting and given no motivation or backstory, Pacino seems particularly disinterested. It is clear the actor has no idea how to convey whatever is happening to him internally.
With barely a story and zero character development, Friedken focuses on the grimy, fetishistic world of leather and sweat, so much so that when word of the picture got around, many in the gay community were outraged to the point of protest against what they thought was a demeaning and offensive portrait of their community. Indeed, the picture had to have its audio almost totally redubbed due to protestors on scene screaming to screw up the sound production.
They need not have worried so much. The movie is a bore and rather than being misled, most audiences likely shrugged.
Not that the bones of a good flick aren’t there. There’s a promising subplot of two police officers who are forcing hustlers to dole out sexual favors. Unexplored. There’s a nice friendship that a develops between Pacino and his gay neighbor. Dropped. And there is little done with the pressure on Pacino and girlfriend Karen Allen (the whole of it is that the more he becomes immersed in the lifestyle, if only as a voyeur, the less he wants to be intimate with her).
Is he gay? Is he curious? Shockingly, you don’t care, and neither does the director. Friedken just wants to get to the next dank cellar where the testosterone-soaked steam is rising.
Sure, there is some obligatory, “I’m in too deep” dialogue. But nothing more. Fleshing out the relationship between Pacino and the gay neighbor would have been the smart way to explore whatever was happening internally, allowing Pacino to search and inquire, maybe even to test.
The film is also hobbled by a pretty elemental impediment. Pacino is, seemingly, straight. So, it seems less and less possible that he’s ever gonna’ get close to the killer, who murders all of his victims in the process of or after sex.
The whole thing is draggy and confused and more than a little gutless.
If you sally forth, look for a very a young James Remar, Ed O’Neill, and Powers Boothe.