Stanley Cachet, played by Randy Russell of American Job indie fame, is a CIA agent left emotionally crippled after his wife’s murder. Guilt-stricken and despondent over her death, Cachet drifts through life in hard-scrabble ’70s-era Milwaukee, growing more and more suicidal when The Agency again comes calling for him. A pair of suitcases belonging to presidential candidate Squire Parks III (Michael Sottile) has gone missing and their retrieval is of utmost concern to the United States of America. The distraught Cachet is pulled out of his depression-induced retirement by CIA Director Holliday (Danny Trejo) to retrieve the mysteriously important suitcases. In exchange for obtaining them, Cachet is promised the name of his wife’s killer and free reign to exact his revenge — no questions asked.
Welcome to Frankie Latina’s Modus Operandi, a lo-fi exploration of sex, guns and sweet Seventies’ violence.
Milwaukee director Latina’s directorial debut pays tribute to the sexually charged, stylized B-movie schlock of ’70s-era exploitation films. Latina’s quasi art house portrayal of Stanley Cachet’s bizarre journey to retrieve the stolen suitcases and avenge his wife’s murder blends the stylized gonzo fiction celebrated in the Tarantino/Rodriguez double-feature Grindhouse with a DIY sensibility borne from the low-budget limitations placed upon the film.
Latina rises to the challenge and creates an entertaining action flick featuring performances from several Milwaukee area actors, including American Movie‘s Mark Borchardt, co-writer Andrew Swant, executive producer Bobby Ciraldo and Sam “Samwell” Norman.
As Stanley Cachet calls in favor after favor from mysterious connections with names like Black Licorice, Agent Xanadu and Casey Thunderbird, a superbly curated soundtrack and dynamic cinematography propel the movie along from each deception to the next. The music in each scene perfectly matches the mood on screen, whether coked-out fuzz rock during Cachet’s initial meeting with Thunderbird (Barry Poltermann) or the whimsically funky bass line during a bikini booby-trap.
The attention to detail in many of the beautifully framed scenes lends the film an artsier quality than the subject matter might suggest and the quick-cut editing keeps the film moving briskly over and along the somewhat-demure dialogue. This stiffness feels like more of a B-movie feature than a bug and the amusing commercials, spliced-in interviews and movie-within-the-movie are sly self-aware nods to the audience from a director who clearly loves this genre.
The action scenes are cleverly done for their limited budget and provide a tantalizing glimpse into Latina’s capabilities with a larger budget pic. The liberal sprinkling of nudity provides a somewhat cosmetic shine of sexuality to the film — and in particular scenes offer touches of dark-humor — but Latina intentionally uses it as more of a prop in the film, and it’s never mined for greater emotional effect.
I think Latina could have gone even further and stayed comfortably under the already high bar of sex and violence set by other exploitation films. Historically, these movies have pushed the boundaries of sex and violence to a degree that’s not present in Modus Operandi. That said, there’s no denying the intensity in this film — one gruesome scene involves a pair of lingerie-clad women methodically torturing Dallas Deacon (Borchardt) — but Latina doesn’t need to dwell on violence when each and every scene is captivatingly constructed.
It’s clear from the first scene on that Latina has an eye for directing that will only improve as he gains experience. The film moves fast and hides its weaknesses well, while the acting doesn’t overreach and stays within the traditional construct of B-movie action films. The performances of Danny Trejo, Michael Sottile and Barry Poltermann stand out for their energy. Randy Russell’s role is notable for its understated effort — he really takes emotionless acting to a new level.
Latina creatively weaves Milwaukee into the movie, using its urban blight, outdated modernistic architecture and glitzy condo towers to set many of the scenes. It’s really incredible how competently Latina and the entire production team were able to transform what could have been an uninspiring, low-budget action flick and give it a high-art polish that makes the movie sparkle. There’s a great distinction between self-aware kitsch and earnest artistry. Latina mixes the two in impeccable fashion.
How did you like the movie? What did you think about the boundaries of sex and violence?