Modus Operandi09-10-31

Fresh from wide acclaim at Cinevegas, Modus Operandi played the appropriate post-midnight slot at the AFI Fest last night. Four years in the making, it’s a Milwaukee-based Super8 homage to exploitation thrillers from the 70s, with CIA agents, mysterious briefcases, shady underworld double-crosses and lots of sexy girls. Characters have names like Black Liquorice, Casey Thunderbird and Agent Xanadu, people spend a lot of time drinking and taking phone calls in hot tubs and pools it’s strung together with a splendid funky score.

The excellent theme song is saved for a late-on massacre in a pole dance bar that plays like an amusing compilation of all the low-budget ways to kill someone, from gunshots to throat-slashing to a thrown playing card in the forehead. But  the film is also shot through with art-house sequences, like a naked man in black and white on a dingy mattress in a  squalid apartment, a strange moon movie playing in a  cinema and a sequence in the bleak wastelands of Siberia. The dichotomy is a bit like that of the Kuchar brothers (and a nude model in the film looks suspiciously like a young George) and best exemplified by the double executions of the end, one pure art-house solemnity, the other an example of let’s-think-of-the-sickest-thing-we-can exploitation.

The affectionate jokey tone is set by the 70s-style theater announcements that preface the movie. 30 year-old director Frankie Latina is in love with the era and has an excellent eye for the details of blaxploitation et al. Shot in colour and black and white on a variety of stocks (with a little video) it’s an appropriate formal mishmash that is hugely inventive and endearingly home-made. It has next to no budget, of course, though production values are stretched to a trip to Japan and a sky-diving sequence and there’s also a good number of effects, cheaply effective without pretending too far towards verisimilitude (head being blown off, car blown up).

How many of the shots and details of decor and character are quotes from ancient rental videos I couldn’t say, but many have an air of genuine originality amongst which the aesthetic of homage achieves an effective unity, from a black and white Japanese basement bondage torture sequence to the trailer for an Indian lady spy show, and the presence of low-rent legend Danny Trejo as an improbable CIA chief and American Movie subject Mark Borchardt. If such jokey pastiche inevitably cannot sustain itself for the full 90 minute running time, the film is never less than inventive and enjoyable, a cherishable oddball curio and evidently a great deal of fun to have made.

Rating: 7/10

Learn more (and listen to the music!) at the official site.