Saturday, April 30, 2011

Cat Chaser (1989)

Directed by Abel Ferrara. Starring Peter Weller, Kelly McGillis, Charles Durning, Frederic Forrest, and Tomas Milian.

Peter Weller plays George Moran, a former Marine who was involved in a U.S. invasion of the Dominican Republic in the '60s. Nowadays (well, in the late '80s when the story took place) he runs a beachfront motel in Miami called the Coconut Palms Resort Apartments something or another. When asked by a potential guest at the check-in desk "Why don't I see any palm trees?", Moran replies "Some bugs ate 'em". The potential guest turns out to be a former Paratrooper named Nolen (Frederic Forrest), whom Moran quickly befriends and trades war stories with. Next thing you know, Nolen's cleaning the pool and appears to be a permanent resident, but, like many other things in the film, there's really no explanation as to why.

Long (and messy) story short, a bunch of characters are introduced who are involved in a plot to rob a former Dominican general, Andres DeBoyan (Tomas Milian), of millions of dollars. There's an obnoxious ex-cop named Jiggs (Charles Durning) who's obviously not to be trusted. There's DeBoyan's wife, Mary (Kelly McGillis), who's long been unhappy in her relationship with the corrupt ex-general and wants to muster up the courage to divorce him and take the two-million she'll be entitled to on account of a prenup she signed. Theoretically, Mary should get what she wants if everything goes according to plan, but come on... we all know nothing ever goes according to plan in these movies.

Speaking of Mary, early in the film, Moran decides to take a trip to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic to track down a woman who saved his life (and gave him the nickname "Cat Chaserrrr!") when he was there in the '60s with the military. He's been having recurring dreams about her and wants to put some closure on that aspect of his life. Instead of finding her, however, he crosses paths with Mary and the two engage in a steamy love affair, to use a cliche term. The affair carries over back to Miami (not very discreetly, mind you), and Moran gets sucked into the whole conspiracy to rob DeBoyan because of his involvement with Mary. Still with me?

So, I'm hoping I'm not alone in thinking that certain parts of this movie didn't make sense. I mean, I got the gist of it: Peter Weller's character is stuck in the middle of a plot to rob the film's villain of a few million bucks, and then he gets romantically involved with the villain's wife and it becomes personal and yada yada yada. It's just that, when watching the film, you're left in the dark about a few things, and there's so much information to process in the first place that you can easily get lost if you're not paying attention. For example, Charles Durning's character, Jiggs. He just occasionally pops up at the most inconvenient times and is pretty vague when presenting himself to Moran. Sometimes you think he's working for Tomas Milian's character and sometimes you think he's working against him, but the entire time you're not really sure who he is in the first place. It wasn't until the movie was over and I did some research that I learned Jiggs was an ex-cop. Throughout the film, I thought he was just some random knee-capper. Even when it came to Milian's character, I wasn't sure what his deal was either, except that he was rich and wasn't exactly on the best of terms with his wife.

When you take a look at the film's poster, it's advertised as an erotic thriller, which it is to a certain extent. It has the conventions of an erotic thriller, but it's mostly just a straight-forward thriller/crime movie. I found CAT CHASER to be shambles in the story department and thought the pacing of the film left a lot to be desired. However, despite its flaws, I still found a lot to like about the film. Well, not a lot, but I didn't completely dislike it. The film's Florida setting, the sound of the wind lightly blowing in the background during certain scenes, and composer Chick Corea's occasionally unorthodox synth score resulted in some pretty outstanding atmosphere throughout the film. Of course it wouldn't be an erotic thriller circa late '80s/early '90s without some saxophone and trumpet thrown into the mix, and CAT CHASER most certainly fits that criteria.

The cast was decent enough and Peter Weller seemed like the perfect person for the character he played. I especially enjoyed Juan Fernandez, who played a small-time pimp, Rafi. One of his prostitutes was played by Kelly Jo Minter, who I mostly know as the sister from PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS. The casting of Tomas Milian will no doubt earn the film some street cred amongst exploitation fans who are familiar with the Cuban-born actor through his many Italian Crime films and Spaghetti Westerns that he made in the '70s. However, fans of Milian, be warned: there's a good chance you may never think of him the same way after seeing this, and I'll just leave it at that. Finally, as far as the cast, Kelly McGillis (TOP GUN) is easy on the eyes and has a couple of nude scenes in the film, one of which is full frontal. Apparently she had such a bad experience during the production of this film that she contemplated quitting acting because of it.

Make or Break scene: Not to sound like a pig, but what made the movie for me was any time Kelly McGillis was naked on screen. Sorry, but without the occasional obligatory nudity included at just the right spots, the film would have completely lost me before it was over. As I mentioned earlier, I thought the atmosphere was great and I found some of the characters to be amusing, but the story just wasn't interesting enough to make me want to see how it would play out. I needed some sort of "erotic thriller" pay-off, so thankfully the film at least delivered in that respect.

MVT: For me, the most valuable thing in the film is the music. I genuinely enjoyed some of the synth numbers (I'm a sucker for synth scores in '80s movies), but, most importantly, it really added to the overall mood of the film and, in my opinion, enhanced it.

Score: 5.75/10

I haven't read the source material (Elmore Leonard's novel of the same name), but based on some research I've done, people who have read Leonard's novel refer to the film as a loyal and worthwhile adaptation. There's not enough going on in CAT CHASER for me to warrant a recommendation of any sort (unless you're an Abel Ferrara completist) and it's not a movie that I can see myself re-watching any time soon, if ever, but I did somewhat enjoy the experience of watching it, even though I didn't necessarily take anything away from said experience. CAT CHASER definitely fits into the Gentlemen's Guide wheelhouse, though, just based on the presence of Tomas Milian alone... and the abundance of tucked-in unbuttoned shirts.


  1. Yeah, it kinda looks like one of those common 80's movie. Common plot with plenty of unnecessary twists. Seems like that was common back then.

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