Saturday, October 27, 2007

Cat Chaser

Cat Chaser posterLike so many others in its genre, which could be described as the US intervention movie, Cat Chaser opens with historical footage. As in Salvador, for instance, this is grainy black and white imagery of street combat. Then the black and white fades into high-definition color. This is going to be a flashback movie, too. We move from the Dominican Republic in 1965 to Florida in the 1980s.

Flashback movies are also trauma movies, and so even in the opening sequence the scene is set for a plot that casts US intervention in Latin America as significant above all for the traumatic effects it has on the invaders. And though the film's protagonist, a character named George Moran who went by the nickname "Cat Chaser" during his days as a marine, seems laid back enough running his no-star hotel on the beach, a flash of his "Halls of Montezuma" tattoo is sufficient to tell the initiated that he's still marked by his military experiences.

In Moran's case, his particular trauma revolves around an incident in which he became the chased rather than the chaser. Fighting in the streets of Santo Domingo during the Johnson-sponsored invasion, in a war that the initial voiceover notes "you probably don't remember," Moran was first taunted, then captured, but finally reprieved by a young woman sniper who ends up asking him about Western mass culture, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. When we meet George, twenty years later, he's on the point of returning to the island to track her down again.

Cat Chaser stillWhat the ex-marine might do should he succeed in locating his tormentor and saviour is unclear. For once again the chaser becomes the chased. Almost no sooner is he back on the island than he runs into another blast from his past: a sultry blonde named Mary DeBoya, who comes from the same MidWest town as he does.

Mary happens now to be married to a former Dominican general and notorious torturer, one Andres DeBoya. George and Mary also have a history, though unlike the war story this is never shown, and she has come to find him. Soon enough, and doubtless with no little thanks to her endlessly skimpy outfits, they find themselves in bed together.

Moran's escapade with the general's wife instigates a series of displacements: soon the search for one Dominican adversary is forgotten, as he has a new one to tackle. Andres DeBoya is back in Florida, to which the action now likewise returns, and hardly in a mood to forgive his wife, let alone allow her to divorce him enriched by the two-million dollar alimony stipulated by their pre-nuptial agreement.

As the trauma plot fades away (late on in the movie we see that the woman he first sought out has written to him, but this is a very unsatisfactory attempt to tie up loose ends), the film gradually loses coherence. A series of shady characters and twists, double-crosses, and betrayals introduce a neo-noir ambience, and although dark secrets from the past are equally a feature of noir, in this case the two plots never quite form a convincing unity.

More significantly, perhaps, if the film's original plaint is that the US's Dominican adventure has faded from popular consciousness--Moran comments that "Now it's all El Salvador or Nicaragua," and he finds a special kinship with another former soldier who was likewise involved in Operation Power Pack--in the end Cat Chaser repeats the sin of historical amnesia. Andres DeBoya, the Dominican who dominates the second half of the movie, is just yet another generic Latin torturer who finds his eventual comeuppance as the snakes he once fed bite back. And the theme of the trauma of intervention gets utterly lost. It remains no more than an affective trace, a dreamlike hallucination, a mark on the body but not the mind. Perhaps indeed, in the context of another round of US intervention, this time in Central America, the film can only stop short of any real examination of the trauma that such foreign adventures provoke.

YouTube Link: twelve seconds in a Dominican Republic bar.

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