CRUISING directed by William Friedkin (USA, 1980)

"Take your hand off my breast!"

“Take your hand off my breast!”

Officer Steve Burns (Al Pacino) is selected for a high-risk undercover operation in New York gay clubs where a knife wielding serial killer is on the loose targeting homosexuals.

Burns is chosen because he physically resembles the victims and he accepts the mission as a fast-track route to promotion.

What is never clear is how Officer Burns is meant to ID the killer. There is no indication that he has any cunning plan. This is worrying since most of the leather-clad clubbers give him death stares and any one could be a prime suspect.

William ‘The Exorcist’ Friedkin’s direction is lazy and the plot so full of holes that any semblance of realism is soon compromised. The movie uses the gay bar scene as an exotic backdrop to add a voyeuristic element to an unconvincing drama. There are jock straps and blow/hand jobs aplenty with no signs that safe sex is an issue. A post-AIDS version would have been very different.

To pass unnoticed in this sweaty S&M scene Officer Burns would have had to participate more actively but instead we see Pacino nervously swaggering about on the sidelines and indiscreetly questioning a barman about the clients. A manic turn on a crowded dance floor after snorting cocaine is his principal act of integration.

“There are things you don’t know about me”, he says enigmatically to his girlfriend, Nancy (Karen Allen) but as if to prove he is still a ‘real man’ (and despite the fact that he is meant to be ‘deep undercover’) he still finds time to return to have vigorous vaginal intercourse with her.

Many gay rights campaigners were apparently up in arms at the depiction of their world but, over 30 years on, what is striking is the absence of the routine homophobia that you might have expected.

It’s hard to argue that the killer symbolises some kind of anti-gay crusade; he has sex with his victims and his motive appears to stem from some deep-rooted self loathing. His murders serve to satisfy some vague form of demented penance for his father, who has been dead for 10 years.

The strong hints that Pacino / Burns is a closet gay fuel a preposterous finale which leaves us wondering if he too has turned into a killer.

This DVD (featuring previously deleted scenes) markets Cruising as a ‘cult’ classic movie when crap exploitation flick would have been closer to the mark.