Peter Weller – forever known as the guy that played Robocop – plays an American veteran who quietly runs a small beachside hotel in Miami. Try as he might, George Moran (Weller) cannot put his involvement in a Dominican Republic intervention behind him. Haunted at night by his dreams and haunted during the day by a cast of seedy characters Moran complicates matters by getting romantically involved with the wife of a former general of the Dominican Republic. Those around Moran attempt to use his relationship as leverage in the hopes that he can help them rip-off the general for a couple of million dollars that the old war dog has stashed away.
Cat Chaser is an unnecessarily complicated adaptation of an Elmore Leonard novel. Taken from the hands of madcat director, Abel Ferrara (Bad Lieutenant, King of New York) the film got butchered in the editing room. A bankrupt Vestron Pictures hacked the film to pieces leaving the plot in pieces. Still, what remains shows some true promise. Ferrara does a wonderful job of capturing the sun soaked sleaze of Miami and the Dominican Republic. Down and out barflies and crooked southerners add to the underworld ambiance, especially the portly, marble-mouthed, Jiggs Scully who is wonderfully played by Charles Durning (The Hudsucker Proxy). With her boney jaw and her masculine gruffness Kelly McGillis (Top Gun) brings little sex appeal as the general’s cheating wife. Perhaps this sort was pretty in the 80’s when even Grace Jones could be mistaken for alluring, but in retrospect she’s nothing to get shot over.
It’s sad that Abel Ferrara wasn’t given final cut on this film and he has now written it off. There are moments that truly shine and a few that speak strongly of Ferrara’s inclination for disturbing scenes. The opening of the film are quite engaging, with grainy, high contrast, black and white images of a military operation playing under the credits, while a collage of sounds adds to the nightmare. However, as promising as this sequence is the rest of the film looks nothing like it. For the remainder of the film the imagery captures a purely 80’s decor further dated by a overly calculated lighting scheme that is also rooted in the glossy 80’s. In particular, it is fun to watch how often actors stand in shadow with only their eyes unobstructed by darkness.
To further help the audience understand the story and to smooth over some plot points a narrator’s voice pushes along the story. Whether the addition of a narrator was the director or the film company’s choice is not obvious. At times the voice of the narrator reads like a book on tape, divulging back story and internal motivation that might not come across through imagery. While not a total success, the narration does directly connect the film to its roots as a novel and serves to show that there are many ways to tell a story cinematically.
Cat Chaser is nothing to rush out and find. It’s not great lost collaboration between two great artists. It’s more like a failed experiment that yields some interesting results. With its tropical locations and its lazy pacing, that mimics the booze and sun soaked characters of the film, Cat Chaser is viewed on a cold or rainy afternoon when you have plenty of time to kill.