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CampBlood Reviews: Senseless Rants from a Picky Sissy

 

Hard John Huckert 1998

...to Sit Through

A cop thriller (heavy on the cops, light on the thrills) that adds a queer element to a detective’s hunt for a homo serial killer, Hard has every right to be shocking and audacious: there’s gay sex, a cat-and-mouse game between a madman and a closeted public servant, a handful of unpleasant murders, and icky elements like pedophilia and heterosexuality. So it’s odd that the film feels like a retread. Hampered by a few flat performances and some stodgy direction, Hard plays out less like the controversial Cruising and more like a mildly racy episode of Matlock.

Hard manages to be incredibly pedestrian despite its title, subject, and genre. It’s actually odd to watch how passionlessly the film tells the story, and while with some films I could argue that this is the intent, here it is obviously just the result of some poor choices that turn what could have been thrilling and nasty into boring and tame. The setup would sound tantalizing enough in a pitch meeting: a serial killer specializing in humiliating, raping, and killing the "disposable" fringedwellers (hustlers, runaways, Texans) meets his ultimate mark in a closeted detective, whom he then proceeds to fuck with and humiliate, in-between some humiliating fucking. In the process, the detective is outed at work (his partner and superiors are surprisingly accepting of the news – welcome to the kinder, gentler LAPD), the psycho messes with a family, more bodies pile up, and… well, that’s about it.

The biggest weak spot of the film is the lead character, Raymond (played with potato-like abandon by Noel Palomaria). A closeted cop on the LAPD, Raymond's biggest problem isn't his ex-wife, his secret fagginess, or his doting horticulturist/bartender boyfriend -- it's that he's about as much fun to be around as a Mormon. Humorless, dull, and apparently not very bright, Raymond stumbles through life in the same way Palomaria stumbles through his scenes: utterly without expression. After about 45 seconds of the main character being on screen, I was ready for somebody else to watch, which is a death knell for what is supposed to be a character piece.

Luckily, a character named Jack swaggers onto the scene, smoking incessantly and advertising his evilness. Our anti-hero, Jack drives around in an SUV picking up cute teenage boys and humiliating them verbally before fucking them, strangling them, and shoving items into their various holes. Now, unless this is your Match.com description of an Ideal First Date, this kind of behavior should by all rights be a bit disturbing. Here it's clumsy, stagey, and forced, and manages to have very little visceral impact on anyone who has ever seen an episode of CSI (or Murder, She Wrote, for that matter). Do I enjoy watching men get raped and murdered? By no means. But when I'm asked to sit through a by-the-numbers capture/torture/kill movie that's not engineered to upset me (or move me in any which direction), I'll likely resort to imagining whether the actors were enjoying themselves while filming.

Does that make me a pervert? No, just bored.

So we've got killings that are graphic but not disturbing, sexually-charged dialogue that is more titillating than shocking, and an unwatchable lead character with a boring job and even more boring life. Not even an interesting necktie every now and then -- in short, not much to latch on to. Luckily, Jack latches on to a married security guard with a thing for dick who lets the murderous drifter stay at his family's house as long as he'll fuck him whenever his wife turns around. Again, more gay fantasy than terror. Sure, the guy has a kid whom Jack later admits to raping, but it's by no means believable and hard to be upset by, considering the lack of tension and immediate danger throughout. So what started out as a potentially electrifying and brutal queer thriller about murder, sexuality, and hot men becomes yet another chance to ogle naked guys being humiliated. Which has its place, certainly -- in David DeCoteau films.

I will say that Malcolm Moorman, as the psycho Jack, turns in a fairly believable and unmannered performance in what could have easily been a mishandled role -- it's actually a shame that he hasn't acted since. As Andy the gay dad, Michael Waite (also in DinoCroc and the criminally overrated Frisk) is also convincing and doesn't tip into hammy acting or camp (their scenes together should have been extended into what could have been a much more interesting film). But the impersonal camerawork and direction (I can count the close-ups on one hand, and most scenes are covered in a single Last Supper-type "everybody stand in a straight line" shot) deflate the horror, the few attempts at humor, and pretty much any chance of connecting with any of the characters.

Ordinarily I would be ashamed at myself at encouraging anyone to get off on such things as torture and murder. But since the thrills here don't deliver, you may as well get something out of your 90 minutes. If you don't mind a bit of fake blood, fast-forward to the dirty bits and have a few laughs and the rest, and watch Silence of the Lambs when you're through.

Rating (out of 5):