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1980 - R - 106 Mins.
Director: William Friedkin
Producer: Jerry Weintraub
Written By: William Friedkin
Starring: Al Pacino, Paul Sorvino, Karen Allen, Richard Cox, Don Scardino
Review by: Jake Cremins

Al Pacino asks why this bar doesn't have a ladies' room.
'Cruising' is an understated title for this movie, which spends most of its time in the dank back rooms and midnight park clearings of gay New York City nightlife, where habitual anonymous sex is about the tamest thing we see on the screen. With minute after minute of screen time, William Friedkin shows us a world that is degrading, ugly, squalid, mean-spirited, and pathologically obsessed with sex in all of its lurid variations--in a word, sick. This is not at all an accurate portrait of what it is to be a gay man and live in New York in 1980; I know this because 'Cruising' told me so, in a disclaimer put on the screen before the movie started. If that's the case, then, what the hell is this supposed to be about?

I ask because if it weren't for the graphic content that had the MPAA, and apparently everyone else, in an uproar, there would barely be a movie left. This is an incredibly pointless film, aimlessly putting out one story thread after another and then just leaving them there. Slowly at first, and then with amazing speed, the movie becomes such a shapless, soggy mass that by the time the last scene plays out we can't even tell which plotline it's fouling up. You'd think a police thriller would at least have a mystery that was understandable, however lame, but somewhere 'Cruising' gets very lost and then stays that way, like a backpacker stranded inside a dark forest who decides to go to sleep instead of finding a way out.

Al Pacino stars as a cop who is forced to go undercover as a homosexual in order to catch a serial killer who has been chopping up gay men with the same build and hair color as Pacino's. He moves into a scuzzy apartment building in a neighborhood with lots of gay men, makes a friend in his playwright next-door neighbor, and night after night hits the bars so that we can be provided with charming scenes such as the one where the guy lying in the leather-strap hammock has a greased fist put pretty much where you're thinking. Meanwhile, we occasionally cut away to see the murders themselves, which are vicious and bloody stabbings of which no detail is spared. (I can't even imagine what this movie looked like before it was cut down for an R rating.)

What is Friedkin trying to accomplish here? I have no idea, and on the basis of the movie it doesn't look like he did either. The murder mystery unwinds and deflates, forgotten for long periods of time so that we can watch Pacino flounder in a role that must have been a mystery even to him. During a full, excruciating hour in which the murder investigation goes utterly unmentioned, our minds wander desperately and we begin to get the idea that the point may be that Pacino's character feels some kind of attraction to this underworld, that he may in fact be gay himself but not know it. Unfortunately, in a movie where everything else is displayed in as much detail as possible, this suggestion is bashfully shrouded in tortured gazes and awkward silences, so much that even that possibility is a vague guess on my part.

Karen Allen serves some purpose or another in what I hope will be the most thankless role of her career, playing Pacino's girlfriend so that when we cut to a scene of him having sex with a woman there is someone underneath him. I'm serious. She has about four lines of dialogue during the entire film, and out of about five scenes three of them consist of nothing but a single shot of her and Pacino having sex. This is no doubt the result of lots of post-production cutting--fully twenty minutes of this movie was said to have been removed on the way to theaters--but hey, it's not like they did it by accident. (I couldn't help wondering, also, what kind of undercover investigation would both require Pacino to rent an apartment under a phony name and allow him to come back home to his girlfriend whenever he felt like it.)

So what we have here is a movie which is not in a releasable condition. It is so incoherent that by the time the police are interrogating a suspect and they call in an enormous black man wearing nothing but a cowboy hat and a G-string to rough up the guy, we just kind of go with the flow. There is a murder mystery no one ever seems to investigate, and a depiction of gay lifestyles so inaccurate that we get that disclaimer at the front. The main character is a cipher, about whom we never learn enough to care. And the worst part about it all is that the story is ignored because the movie is too busy looking for the lowest common denominator in repellent sleaze to be bothered. William Friedkin has made some great films in the past--'The Exorcist,' 'The French Connection'--and this one is by far his worst.
Movie Guru Rating
Offensive and completely without value.  Should never have been released.
  0 out of 5 stars

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