James Franco recreates excised dance and sex scenes from William Friedkin's "Cruising" in "Interior. Leather Bar." Credit: Strand Releasing
‘Interior. Leather Bar.’ Directors: James Franco, Travis Matthews Stars: James Franco, Val Lauren Rating: NR 2 (out of 5) Globes
Much has been made of the fact that James Franco found time in between being a prolific actor, a writer of modernist short stories, a student, a teacher, a painter and presumably a budding caterer, too, to direct over a dozen films. One doesn’t want to assume too much, but being overextended shows in his own work, from the dicey adaptations of unadaptable novels (Cormac McCarthy’s “Child of God,” multiple William Faulkner films) to “Interior. Leather Bar,” co-made with Travis Matthews, which is so slender that if looked at from the right angle, it wouldn’t even exist.
Obsessed for vague reasons with the 40 minutes of dancing and oft-hardcore sex cut from William Friedkin’s notorious “Cruising” — in which cop Al Pacino goes undercover in the gay S&M scene of the turn of the ‘80s — Franco has created this quasi-experimental quasi-doc. Here, he guides a recreation of these scenes — not, to the disappointment of many of the rounded-up cast members, with him performing, but behind the camera (though sometimes in front of his). As in Friedkin’s original, a straight actor (Val Lauren) has been hired to descend into a world alien to much of the mainstream. And as with Pacino’s character in the film, his discomfort grows even as he finds himself reluctantly half-getting into it. In fact, the film is essentially an abstract remake of "Cruising," only with the heterosexual shock at an outsider scene dialed way (but not entirely) down.
Throughout, Franco touches on (or, more accurately, lightly grazes) the evolution of LGBT issues, although he remains cagey about the one notion that would be an actual bombshell: his own fascination with homosexuality and what it has to say about gay rumors. (“This is the End” was more honest on the subject.) One can detect a bit of Norman Mailer (particularly his 1968 semi-narrative “Maidstone”), though Franco the public figure is a far more elusive and mysterious presence than the open (and openly egomaniacal) Mailer. The film is so thin that it almost seems to have meat on it, just because it seems like it should. But it doesn’t. What little you see is what little you get.