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William Friedkin
Al Pacino, Paul Sorvino, Karen Allen, Richard Cox, Don Scardino, Joe Spinell, Jay Acovone, Randy Jurgensen, Barton Heyman, Gene Davis
Writing Credits:
William Friedkin, Gerald Walker (novel)

Al Pacino is Cruising for a killer.

A sadistic serial killer is targeting New York's gay community and, in response, the NYPD sends rookie cop Steve Burns undercover to find the killer. Burns, who is straight, poses as a homosexual and enters the world of gay S&M sex clubs, learning their rules and mores as he goes along. But as Burns arduously tracks down the murderer, he finds himself growing attracted to these clubs and the gay lifestyle, forcing him to question - and possibly confront - his own sexual identity.

Box Office:
Domestic Gross
$19.798 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 102 min.
Price: $19.97
Release Date: 9/18/2007

• Audio Commentary with Director William Friedkin
• “Making Cruising Two-Part Documentary
• Trailer


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Cruising: Deluxe Edition (1980)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 19, 2007)

Like Deliverance, The Boys from Brazil and many other films of the Seventies, 1980’s Cruising immediately makes me think of SCTV. A skit on that show made fun of one of the flick’s more unseemly elements. I was too young to really get the joke when it first aired, but the sketch stayed with me.

That alone would’ve made me interested in watching Cruising, but the film’s infamy pushed it into “must see” territory when the DVD arrived on my door. Cruising introduces us to the gay S&M culture of New York City. Someone preys on the denizens of these nightspots with enough frequency to turn this into serial killer territory.

NYPD officer Steve Burns (Al Pacino) gets the assignment to go undercover and infiltrate the clubs so he can attract and apprehend the killer. This requires a deep commitment to “disappear”, a fact that doesn’t exactly delight his girlfriend Nancy (Karen Allen). The movie follows Steve’s involvement in the rough gay scene as he pursues the mysterious murderer.

Back when Cruising hit the screens in 1980, it generated a lot of controversy due to its depiction of gay life. Some straights felt offended by its “graphic” content, while many gays didn’t like it because they thought it focused on the seedy side of the lifestyle. They believed it contributed to a monochromatic view of gays as sex-obsessed pervs.

Did Cruising help or hurt the gay cause? I’d say neither, as I think its impact on society was negligible. Once it left theaters, it essentially went forgotten, and I seriously doubt it did anything to affect gay acceptance or repression.

If I were gay, I’d mostly be offended that they made a flick related to the culture that’s so damned boring. Some movies come armed with a tight, gripping story, and they make their events feel like an integral part of those tales. Cruising isn’t one of those flicks. Instead, the plot feels tacked on and almost superfluous. When the film tries to emphasize the murder mystery, it doesn’t seem interested – it gives off a “who cares?” attitude about those sections, as it prefers to delve into the smutty side of things.

Those who expect a really graphic view of the gay nightlife will likely come away disappointed. We find lots of shots of semi-clad dudes as they kiss, grope and moan, but there’s not really much more to it than that. The movie makes all of this look pretty seedy, but it rarely presents a more intense view than that.

Nonetheless, Cruising really does revel in those scenes. As I mentioned, it seems bored with the story when it makes half-hearted attempts to pursue the narrative. Instead, it’d rather indulge in endless shots of gay clubs, ala some form of cheap TV newsmagazine exposé.

Perhaps this was titillating and provocative 27 years ago, back before gay culture received as much widespread public exposure as it does today. Or maybe it was just as dull then as it is now. Whatever the case may be, shot upon shot of guys in bars doesn’t create an interesting movie.

In addition to the undercooked narrative, Cruising comes with consistently flat performances and characters. Steve himself is a particular dud, especially as radically underplayed by Pacino. Given that actor’s tendency toward the hammy side of the street – a boulevard he strutted upon only a year earlier in …And Justice for All - it comes as a shock to see Pacino’s subdued work here.

And by “subdued”, I mean “barely conscious”. He plays the role with absolutely no spark or personality. As such, Steve lacks any of the depth we would expect – and require, really. We should see some inner life to the character, but Pacino lends nothing to the part. He’s basically a cipher. To some degree, that choice makes marginal sense when you get to the finish of the film and see its cheap twist ending, but it still doesn’t feel right to me.

Not that much about Cruising works. A flat, dull piece of work, it never musters the energy to tell a real story. Instead, it throws attempted titillation at us with little else to merit our interest.

The DVD Grades: Picture B-/ Audio B-/ Bonus B-

Cruising appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though inconsistent, the transfer usually held up reasonably well.

Some of the ups and downs related to sharpness. While a lot of the movie displayed good clarity and delineation, more than a few shots appeared a bit ill-defined. However, those weren’t a substantial issue, and most of the flick looked fine. No concerns with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and only a little edge enhancement appeared. Despite its age, the film managed to seem clean. I noticed a couple of specks, and grain could be somewhat heavy, but the majority of the movie came across without defects.

Cruising offered an awfully blue palette, with the occasional sign of dismal green. In particular, scenes that involved nightclubs or the seedy culture went with those tones, though much of the rest of the flick was similarly desaturated. The colors were generally fine within those parameters, though they seemed a bit drab and flat at times. Blacks showed acceptable density, though they tended to be a bit inky, and shadows were usually a little thick. None of these concerns was major, but they still added up to a “B-“ transfer.

I also found plusses and minuses within the film’s Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. On the positive side, the soundfield broadened the elements in a reasonably satisfying manner. Nothing terribly dynamic occurred, but at least various effects spread to the sides in a convincing way, and the music showed nice stereo delineation. The surrounds didn’t do much, but they added music to the club scenes and helped give us a decent feel for the environment. One segment added a train in the rear, but otherwise I didn’t hear much unique info back there.

Audio quality became a weak link at times, partially due to recording techniques. In particular, I thought the movie suffered from a lot of poorly looped dialogue. The killer’s lines sounded so “off” that they became a distraction, and many other scenes displayed stiff speech. They were intelligible but never terribly natural or well integrated.

At least the other aspects of the track worked better. Music showed good life and range for the most part, while effects demonstrated fairly good clarity and precision. Really, only the problems with the speech distracted here, as the rest of the mix was good for its age.

We discover a few extras in this “Deluxe Edition” of Cruising. First comes an audio commentary from director William Friedkin. He provides a running, screen-specific discussion. Friedkin talks about inspirations and influences, locations, cast, issues with the gay community, realism and research.

While Friedkin occasionally touches on those subjects, most of the time he simply narrates the movie. Hoo boy, Friedkin sure does like to discuss what we see on the screen! You might wonder if you accidentally triggered a DVS track instead of a commentary. Though Friedkin presents a little interpretation of the film and the occasional useful comment, the vast majority of this piece bores.

In addition to the film’s trailer, we get a 43-minute and 33-second documentary called Making Cruising. This splits into two parts: “The History of Cruising” (21:04) and “Exorcising Cruising” (22:29). The show mixes movie clips, archival elements, and interviews with Friedkin, actor/technical advisors Sonny Grosso and Randy Jurgensen, producer Jerry Weintraub, casting director Lou DiGiaimo, director of photography James Contner, production executive Mark Johnson, editor Bud Smith, and actors Richard Cox, Don Scardino, Gene Davis, Jay Acovone, and James Remar.

“History” looks at the adaptation of the novel and changes made for the script, research and influences, locations and realism. From there we learn about casting, characters, and performances, and Friedkin’s influence on the set. “Exorcising” views cinematography, working within the gay community and connected issues, the film’s violence and topics related to the murders, editing, audio and music, and the movie’s reception.

“Making” helps compensate for the disappointing commentary. It gives us a pretty solid examination of the production and doesn’t skimp on frank details. I especially like all the attention devoted to the negative reactions from the gay community, as those make up an important part of the movie’s legacy. (They also let us know why so much of the film was looped.) Of course, it’s too bad that Al Pacino doesn’t participate, but his absence doesn’t mar this piece too much. “Making” covers the flick in an informative and involving manner.

I don’t mind the fact that Cruising focuses on the seedy side of gay culture. I do object to the sheer boredom it inflicts on the viewer. Flat, dull and tedious, the movie acts more as a tour of gay nightclubs than as an actual story. The DVD presents acceptable picture and audio. The extras are a mixed bag; we get a fine documentary but must suffer through a weak commentary. This is a reasonably good disc, but the movie itself is a clunker.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.1818 Stars Number of Votes: 11
2 3:
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