Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Cut and Run (1985)

Ruggero Deodato’s Cut and Run (aka Inferno in Diretta aka Straight to Hell) opens with a vicious attack on a jungle drug lab by loincloth-clad natives led by topless madman, Quecho (Michael Berryman).  Waiting in the wings for the narcotics is Colonel Horn (the late Richard Lynch) and his amphibious plane.  Meanwhile in Miami, reporters Fran (the late Lisa Blount) and Mark (Leonard Mann) stumble upon another drug-related massacre while investigating a smuggling ring.  The duo talk their way into a travel assignment to probe deeper on the premise that their search will also turn up TV exec Bob’s (Richard Bright) missing scion Michael (Willie Aames).  Naturally, this is a great idea, and will turn out just fine and dandy.

Cut and Run is an Action film.  It is a Cannibal film (in texture if not content).  It is a Survival film.  It is a Cult film (in the zealotry sense of the word).  You’ll notice that’s a lot of influences.  You’ll also notice that sounds like an awful lot to try and pack into a ninety minute film.  And you would be right.  For as much as this is any one of the things it wants to be at any given point in its runtime, it doesn’t completely satisfy that facet before it leaps to the next one.  The film begins with a strong action scene.  The natives and Quecho are brutal, terrifying in their animal ferocity, yet the filmmakers cut around some of the “money shots.”  They take the time to show the natives strip and attack two women and then cut away at the moment of their fate.  Yes, we get an aftermath shot, but it feels like a whole lot of build up to not much payoff.  And this is the general approach to almost every scene in the film.  It’s not simply that they exit scenes early.  They exit scenes prematurely, and so the viewer is left dangling.  Interestingly, there are some extremely graphic splatter effects later in the film.  Yet, what they chose to show and what they chose to edit around is baffling, because it doesn’t feel motivated in the slightest.  Coming from a director who is best known for one of the most notorious Splatter films ever (Cannibal Holocaust, in case you were wondering), this backing off on the grue is a letdown.

Further to this, the hopscotch approach by the filmmakers is a detriment to the narrative.  For example, Michael cares for fellow prisoner Ana (Valentina Forte).  He watches her be used for the pleasure of any man Vlado (John Steiner) wishes.  He does nothing to stop this (and it should be noted, Aames’ character does little more than mewl whenever he’s on screen).  He connects with her afterward in a very cursory way.  They get split up.  They meet their individual fates.  The various arcs in the film have beginnings and endings, but they lack any real sense of development before they finish.  Consequently, there is no resonance and very little gratification.  And this doesn’t just apply to Michael and Ana’s story.  The whole reason the audience is willing to take the journey to the jungle in the first place is because we want to see what Horn and his minions are planning.  But even after we get any kind of an explanation, we still have no idea what the hell is going on; the reason given is as nebulous as the course Fran and Mark followed to get there.  It’s like having a comic book with all but the first two and last two pages torn out, and the last two are sliced down the middle besides.  The art may be appealing.  What writing you take in may be entertaining, but that doesn’t change your feeling of being cheated (or maybe just frustrating your desire for completion).  With a little bit more connective tissue, a tiny bit more fleshing out, and a tighter focus on the end goal, this could have been a great film.  Inexplicably, what the film does give you is certainly enjoyable up to a point.  However, by continually pulling the rug out from under our expectations, the film ultimately only ever confounds.  Despite my kvetching, however, I have to say I will almost definitely revisit this film at some point, and I dare say I’ll find something to like when I do.  Nevertheless, anyone coming to this movie for the first time really needs to do so with lowered expectations.

As with Deodato’s aforementioned gutmuncher classic, there is an element in Cut and Run about the media.  When Fran and Mark come upon the initial bloodbath in Florida, they do what we expect from the media: they film a report detailing the carnage, exploiting it.  Later, they will do this again as they send transmissions from the jungle back to America.  Unlike the despicable characters in Cannibal Holocaust, Fran and Mark do not facilitate the butchery they are in the midst of, yet they impassively dwell on it, leer at it.  By following the “if it bleeds, it leads” ethos to the letter, they surrender part of their humanity.  They never really do what’s “right” outside of their documentation of their experiences.  Of course, the viewer becomes complicit in this dehumanization because this is what we want to see from the comfort of our seats.  Additionally, it should be noted that Horn’s interaction with Mark and Fran is a form of punctuation on this.  He has the reporters film his statement of purpose (it doesn’t matter that it’s head-scratchingly vague) because he knows that this is the only way to be heard in this world.  For years, he hid away, believed dead, but Horn understands that through the media his thoughts can live on and perhaps inspire others to follow.  To be fair, this most likely will never happen since his words and deeds seem contradictory and unconvincing, but that he wants his actions filmed for posterity forces viewers to confront how they interact with the media, to some degree or another.

Similarly, there are themes of idolatry.  Horn was a follower of the infamous Jim Jones, and Horn’s own cult among the natives is an extension of that.  Like Kurtz in Heart of Darkness/Apocalypse Now, Horn is, for all intents and purposes, a god to these people.  He understands the value of showmanship to promote his brand of cultism to his select few, but he also appears to be a true believer.  He wants to keep these people “pure,” and he feels that the outside world, especially the media, has brought nothing but contamination into the jungle.  Despite this, Horn claims no ultimate wisdom.  He states, “There are no answers.  Only actions.  By our actions, we are judged, pure or unholy.”  It’s an intriguing enough philosophy on its surface, but how Horn draws it to its final conclusion belies his words.  He thinks he’s showing members of the electronic jury a true path, but what he is actually doing is giving them more of what they want.  I do think the filmmakers have things like this to say in Cut and Run, but the questions they want to raise are muddled by the schizophrenic film that surrounds them.  Like I said, it’s confounding.

MVT:  Deodato is quite adept at manufacturing atmosphere, and Cut and Run certainly has a palpable texture to it.  It’s just laid over top of seriously shaky foundations.

Make or Break:  The opening assault is impressive.  Its culmination is indicative of what to expect: simultaneous highs and lows.

Score:  6.75/10                

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