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In the wild opening scene of Drew Daywalt and David Schneider’s 2002 film Stark Raving Mad, the protagonist, Ben McGewan (cocksure, handsome American Pie alumnus Seann William Scott), is defined in a single moment.  Alone on a savannah and faced with a lion, he keeps his cool and, instead of running, he flips the savage beast the bird.  In addition to instantaneously hooking the viewer’s interest into this character’s story, the gesture also tells the viewer who he is: a masculine, confident, charming rebel with a touch of zen about him.

Stark Raving Mad, living up to its title, is a caper film about teasing the venomous snake and challenging the king of the jungle, and works the way Sexy Beast might have played if it had been a stateside story directed by Danny Boyle or Guy Ritchie: flippant, frenetic, visually inventive, and still a little psychologically pimply.  Foul-mouthed as any Tarantino film and featuring the same sorts of casual hipster criminals, gratuitous anecdotes, faux-profound contemplations, and wacky, depraved situations, Stark Raving Mad is more fun than might be expected from a film of its gimmicky, derivative type.  As in the work of Ritchie and Tarantino, violence is trivialized somewhat, but the ride is so fast and sexy that the sin of it is beside the point.

Sin does, however, figure thematically in Stark Raving Mad and help to energize it, set as it is in a decadent rave club that could double as some other movie’s futuristic Sodom, what with its lurid, luminous greens, cavernous blackness, wet trance music, neon, drugs, and hive of willing bodies.  As Ben and his motley crew of amateurish crooks are in the basement trying to break into the vaults of the bank next door, floozies and incubi rock the dance floor above, with drag queens performing an S&M show onstage with a snake and date rape drugs floating nonchalantly around the club.  At one point the python gets loose (an excuse for a bit of zippy snake-vision camera work) and wraps itself around a party-goer as a reminder that fire is hot but also burns.  It is, however, the daredevil dance around the fire that primarily concerns Stark Raving Mad.

Indicative of the film’s will to party is its decision more than once to break the fourth wall, with two characters, Ben and Rikki (Timm Sharp), addressing the viewer directly.  This gimmick, immediately calling to mind Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, complements the self-conscious mischief of the film as a whole and reinforces a parallel between Ben’s relationship with depressed buddy Rikki and Ferris’s patronage and concern for milquetoast sidekick Cameron.  Stark Raving Mad is a much sleazier entertainment experience than Ferris – to be expected in a film with a list of characters including “Seedy Guy”, “Sickly Thin Guy”, and “Trannie #3” – but also captures something of its anarchic validation of salutary revelry and rebellion for its own sake.

A little bit more than just a style-over-substance fix, this one is recommendable for its non-stop neo-disco-gothic visual sensibility, but also for its humor, some adequate suspense, and the anchoring performance of Seann William Scott and supporting players Sharp as Rikki and Lou Diamond Phillips as scary gangster Mr. Gregory.

4 out of 5 possible stars.

[WARNING: POTENTIAL SPOILERS]

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Stark Raving Mad is:

9. Anti-Christian/anti-religion.  Oriental mythological beliefs, characterized as superstition, receive more attention than western spirituality.  “Help me, Jesus, help me!” a DJ (Jody Racicot) says in sarcastic despair when told to play a song he dislikes.  Ben, in a tight spot, irreverently invents a lie about a character’s religious tenets to fool an FBI agent.

8. Feminist, at least with respect to the intelligent, technologically adept Betty (Suzy Nakamura).  “Stop bustin’ my ovaries,” this probable lesbian sasses.  “I said have a seat and have some kung pao chicken,” she asserts with menace at one point, transforming hospitality into a threat.

7. Homosexuality-ambivalent.  From the standpoint that all publicity is good publicity, Stark Raving Mad gives an endorsement.  “I feel love,” pyrotechnics man Jake (John Crye) says, arms around a man and a woman, probably under the influence of ecstasy.  The transvestites, though loutish and ugly behind the scenes, put on a sexy show with their makeup masks and tacky regalia.  However, Rikki fears the inevitability of prison bitchery should he be caught by police, imagining that he would emerge from incarceration looking like a doughnut.

6. Anti-state, presenting an unflatteringly seedy portrait of one public servant.  A character eventually revealed to be an undercover FBI agent (NewsRadio‘s Dave Foley) talks about how he likes his chickens frying size.  “These dirty little meat flowers nowadays, they’ll just like strip and jump your donkey anywhere, huh?”

5. Racist!, specifically in its depictions of Asians.  Betty, while smart and confident, is also sarcastic, mannish, and unpersonable.  Most of the other Asians in the film are superstitious gangsters, the only other one being an unseen and apparently stupid or English-challenged Chinese restauranteur with whom Ben has difficulty communicating his order over the phone.  A shrilly annoying rendition of “Sayonara” plays over the denouement.  Also, “mongoloid” is employed as an insult.

4. Drug-ambivalent.  Jake is incapacitated by a drug-spiked drink.  “I work better stoned,” he says earlier in the film, but events fail to bear this out.  Cigarettes, however, lend an air of experienced toughness to Ben and Betty.

3. Family-ambivalent.  Parents receive poor representation, but Ben is motivated all along by a desire to seek revenge for his brother’s death.

2. Misogynistic, sexist, and slut-ambivalent.  With the exception of Betty, no female character in Stark Raving Mad has a shred of dignity.  Women are sluts, fickle in their affections, and exist to serve men drinks and sensual pleasure.  Ben, after describing a type of bird that eats its mate’s heart after sex, explains, “I think it’s because she’s just a bitch.”  Vanessa (Monet Mazur), a former recipient of his attentions, once broke out his windshield, cooling his desire to have a woman in his life as a permanent fixture.  Later, after telling her “Fuck you”, he has sex with her but breaks off abruptly when caper business intervenes.  At the end, after the heist is accomplished, he throws her out of the getaway van.  Hungry club cutie Kitten (Reagan Dale Neis), after settling for dweeby Rikki by default and pleasing him on a sluttish whim, only earns him a brutal beating when her father (Foley) discovers their dirty deed.  On the pro-slut side of the equation, however, is Ben letting a bevy of underage girls into the club and a scene in which one woman receives cheers for flashing her crotch to be let into this apparently very happening nightspot.

1. Outlaw/anti-capitalistic.  An announcement of “X marks the spot” serves to cast the robbers as modern-day pirates and adventurers.  Crime, fraught with danger for them though it may be, works out in the end for Ben and his friends.  “I got the money, I got revenge, and nobody got killed.  Hell, Rikki even got laid.”  Which is to say that it pays.  A nasty split-screen montage with a drill equates bank robbery with sex.  The film’s representative businessman is club proprietor Mr. Partridge (Adam Arkin), who is punished for attempting to assert his prerogatives as a property owner.  Also, Betty’s former employer at a software firm is described as “some asshole”.

Flippantly violent after the Tarantinoid tradition and frenetically ADHD-afflicted and visually gimmicky in the Guy Ritchie mold – with whooshing split screens, speed-up/slow-down action, and more than one trip to the old follow-the-bullet-in-slow-motion trough – Cat Run is a high-energy Euro-flavored action comedy graced with fine performances and a few good laughs but ultimately let down by its director, John Stockwell (Top Gun‘s Cougar, not the CIA whistleblower), its beat machine editing, and its pervading air of triviality and gratuitous vulgarity.

When upscale prostitute Cat (Paz Vega) witnesses U.S. Senator Bill Krebb (Christopher McDonald, whose face has always connoted an intelligent sleaze) murdering one of her coworkers at a decadent party thrown by arms dealer Branko Jakovic (Branko Djuric), she flees with the security footage and soon has corrupt police and ex-MI6 assassin Helen Bingham (Janet McTeer) on her trail.  Meanwhile, two dweeby American expatriates, wiz kid and bad cook Anthony (Scott Mechlowicz) and sex-obsessed Julian (Alphonso McAuley) have opened an amateur detective agency and hope to establish their credibility by locating Cat before anyone else can beat them to her.

Janet McTeer, whose Helen is a darker version of Helen Mirren’s character in Red, is, along with lovable comedic talent McAuley, one of the two biggest incentives to watch Cat Run.  Every laugh in the film belongs to McAuley, who has something of the energy of a young Michael Winslow or Richard Pryor; and McTeer is charming whenever the gruesome script and costuming allow it (with her cleavage utilized to commendable effect in the film’s climactic action sequence).  Another noteworthy component of the cast is Europe itself, with several beautiful locations lending the story a touch of class.

Ultimately neither horrible nor noteworthily good, the film earns itself a modest 3 out of 5 possible stars.  Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Cat Run is deeply conflicted and:

12. Egalitarian.  Bleeding-hearted Anthony sympathizes when Cat steals his car, saying in earnest, “She must really need it.”

11. Anti-drug.  Amputee secretary Dexter lost his first arm after using a dirty needle.

10. Racist!  Enter into evidence the segue from Julian to a chimpanzee.

9. Anti-Christian.  “I thank God every day for what happened,” Dexter says after explaining his disabilities and recounting how his wife was eaten by a shark.  His faith fails to save him, however, when Helen lops off the arm with which he brandishes his Bible.  Schubert’s “Ave Maria” grotesquely accompanies this scene.

8. Antiwar.  Neoconservative fearmongering with respect to Iran is a scam driven by defense contractors and greedy politicians.

7. Selectively xenophobic, with Slavs depicted as seedy and untrustworthy.

6. Multiculturalist/pro-miscegenation.  White Anthony and black Julian are best friends, and Julian has “saved him from many brutal beatdowns.”  Julian charms European women and at one point lifts his kilt to reveal his cartoonishly gigantic penis.  All of his ex-girlfriends appear to be white.  Polyglot black amputee and communications specialist Dexter has a Purple Heart and valuable services to offer despite his disability.

5. Anti-police.  The Montenegran police are all in the employ of Branko Jakovic.  One policeman fails to report an abandoned car, hoping he can sell it instead.

4. Anti-family/anti-marriage.  Anthony has moved to Europe to avoid his meddlesome family.  “My father used to beat me with a belt and make me sleep in the barn with pigs,” Cat recalls.  Evil arms dealer Jakovic is married with children.  Julian recalls a college dean whose wife shot him in the face.

3. Feminist/pro-castration.  Cat Run appears to fancy itself highly original in repeatedly depicting a woman getting the best of the various men who confront her: kicking their testicles, shooting them, punching them, stabbing them, blowing them up, making snooty quips at their expense, amputating limbs, and even removing a penis with a cigar cutter.  Helen also effortlessly relieves an overburdened porter of one of the suitcases he is able to carry only with difficulty.  Wimpy heroes Anthony and Julian are favored over macho men, who meet with bloody and painful demise.  A pornographer is an “exploiter” of women and dies the most horrible death.

2. Pro-slut/pro-bastard.  Cat Run presents a sympathetic portrayal of whore and single mother Catalina.  “A blowjob provider?  That would be like calling Caravaggio a housepainter.”

1. State-ambivalent.  Senator Krebb is a murderous lecher, alcoholic, and warmonger.  Intelligence agents delight in torture and mayhem (“We’ll always have Angola”) – which, however, seems to be intended as entertaining, giving rise to an ambiguity in the film’s attitude toward state crimes against humanity.  Cat Run is bizarrely indulgent toward ex-MI6 psycho Helen, who wears a ghoulish pendant made from the teeth of an Arab she interrogated, but is celebrated as a sexy and empowered heroine whose sadistic mutilation and killing of innocents (and implied willingness to murder even babies) are apparently forgivable and negligible in the grand scheme of things because she is “killer cool”.

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