CRUISING is a very…interesting movie. It’s easy to see why it was all but rejected upon its initial release in 1980. The subject matter is still fairly controversial by today’s standards. BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN showed two guys making out and caused quite a stir; the sight of Al Pacino naked and hogtied in a gay tryst must’ve caused a riot or two back in the day.
Friedken (THE EXORCIST, THE FRENCH CONNECTION) does a fine job making a serial killer thriller that boasts a curiously ominous, seedy tone and occasionally hits the right suspense beats. The murders, although sparse, are effectively shown in unflinching detail. Like the violence, the “leather bar” scenes aren’t for the faint of heart. Let’s just say they don’t leave much to the imagination with the man-on-man love. (Thankfully Friedken throws in some naked Karen Allen sex scenes to even the score.)
Unfortunately, CRUISING focuses so hard on being taboo that it forgets trivial things like “story” or “making sense.” The plot is disjointed and bizarre (a large naked black guy slapping around suspects in the interrogation room…really?), which makes the film outright boring and pointless at times. Pacino’s character doesn’t do any real detective work for the first hour, instead opting to walk into a clubs and stare at people. And there are just some guys you don’t picture putting on eyeliner and talking to dudes about golden showers. Pacino is one of them. It doesn’t help that his character isn’t likable and honestly, the man’s performance wasn’t particularly great either.
I don’t know if Friedken was just trying to balance too many ideas or was overwhelmed by the subject matter, but CRUISING doesn’t amount to much, especially with the sloppy and disappointing ending. Overall, it’s hard to recommend—unless you’re one of the four people on Earth who’ve been waiting to hear Paul Sorvino ask Al Pacino if he’s ever had his pole smoked.
Commentary by William Friedkin: Though he narrates the plot on more than one occasion, Friedken does provide some authoritative information about what is based on real events (a surprising amount), as well as some interesting tidbits. (There were no extras in the club scene, just real clubgoers.) And if you’re looking for answers to the film’s mystery Friedken has them, but I don’t think you’ll be too happy if you’re looking for closure.
Making of CRUISING (43:32): This ample documentary is divided in to two parts: “The History of CRUISING” looks at the difference between the book and the movie, how the filmmakers did (*ahem*) research, and the guy who was the basis for Pacino’s character. “Exorcising CRUISING” covers the controversy involved during filming and the final release. (The film apparently split the gay community, including some activists who made the shoot a living hell.) Both parts feature interviews with cast and crew, except for Pacino.
Extra Tidbit: Look for appearances from a very young Al Bundy (Ed O’Neill), as well as the dad from “Boy Meets World.”