Although it was greeted with scorn by gay-rights groups and other critics upon its 1980 release, this Al Pacino thriller isn't coherent enough on any front to be viewed as a deliberately anti-gay screed. Less a police procedural than a queasy psychodrama set against the backdrop of New York City's leather scene, Cruising simply doesn't function very well as a mystery. Red herrings are one thing, but writer/director William Friedkin's script is so full of holes, ambiguity, and misdirection that it confounds any sort of literal interpretation. As a gritty fever dream about masculinity and sexual anxiety, however, this dank, dark, unpleasant picture is memorable indeed. His weary, hollowed face bathed in shadows, Pacino navigates the world of gay S & M like it's a perversely fascinating theme park -- one he's uncomfortable admitting that he's grown to love. No greased-up arm, no bobbing head, no desperate tongue kiss is too hyperbolically sleazy to escape the notice of his character -- or the camera. One infamous scene, involving an oversized African-American man in thong underwear and a cowboy hat inexplicably conducting an interrogation, provides only the most obviously over-the-top example of masculinity magnified until it's a parody of itself. Cruising may not be much of a thriller, but it's still a fascinating piece of cinematic voyeurism with an enduringly hard-to-pin-down subtext.
by Brian J. Dillard review