Hunting for a sensational comeback after SORCERER/’77 and THE BRINK’S JOB/’78 scuttled his gilt-edged FRENCH CONNECTION/’71-EXORCIST/’73 rep, William Friedkin found something to sensationalize, all right. At heart, a bread-and-butter undercover-dick serial murder investigation. But what bread!, what butter!, since the serial killer trolls in the S&M gay leather bar scene of the NYC Meat District. The gimmick to these things, as always, is to see just how far our undercover protagonist (a too old Al Pacino) will go to protect his assumed identity; especially since he’s the bait. For writer/director Friedkin, it's a problem of prurience: a kinky sex show that's meant to pander and repel. Friedkin’s response is to sidestep the usual Police Procedural tropes of a traditional murder mystery manhunt and go for a more ambiguous European style of art house cinema. (This even affects the sound design with its non-instrumental background score from composer Jack Nitzsche’s and an odd acoustic to its heavily looped, voice-disjunctive dialogue track.) Cinematic bi-curiosity that leaves Friedkin stranded with one foot in each camp. There’s still a lot of interest in the film simply as pre-AIDS document. But as thriller, the only scary thing in here is Al Pacino’s hedonistic dancing. Yikes!
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: The film tiptoes around Pacino’s level of participation, compared to, say, DONNIE BRASCO/97, where Al plays the mob guy and Johnny Depp the undercover who goes ‘all the way in.’ Well, how ‘all-the-way-in’ would a 1980 film star at a gay leather bar go? (The handsomely remastered DVD seems to have lost a line where Pacino claims he’s hung “like a horse.’) He does get pawed, tied up and possibly receives head just before going back to his steady girl (Karen Allen) for a comparative blow job. Friedkin, the squarest of squares, misses even the hint of a gag here as the camera closes in on Pacino’s blank expression.
DOUBLE-BILL: Urban legend holds that an XXX sequence, now lost, was shot during production. In INTERIOR. LEATHER BAR/’13, James Franco cogitates on the possibilities and even films a few bits of putative recreation. But the film is mere stunt, intellectual masturbation posing as an art thing. Instead, for a good idea of the sort of film Friedkin had in mind, try Maurice Pialat’s POLICE/’85 with a still young & swaggering Gérard Depardieu as the police detective caught in his own passions. The last act collapses into l’amour fou cliché, but not enough to sour the effect.