`Caught' intrigues, showcases the worst of humanity

by Laura Duke

Occasionally you find a movie that leaves you totally exhausted, slightly nauseated and convinced of the imminent downfall of humankind. Caught is one of those films.

Shot on nothing and pushing far beyond the boundaries of "safe cinema," director Bob Young and a stellar cast bring to life characters so raw and poignant that one is caught up immediately. Audiences will be powerless to keep from following the breathless, accelerating downward spiral.

Caught opens on the dirtier, poorer, harsher side of Jersey City, following Nick (Arie Verveen), who is a hopeless wanderer until he finds Joe's fish shop. Joe (Edward James Olmos) and Betty (Maria Conchita Alonso) take Nick into their shop, apartment and lives, filling the void created when their son, Danny (Steven Schub), moves to California to pursue an unsuccessful career as a stand-up.

Nick's presence transforms Joe. More than just another pair of hands in the store, the kid opens up a new side of the old, cranky fisherman as Joe rekindles dreams of owning his own boat.

Nick and Betty fall in love -- their passions heat up the screen and the plot as they take more and more risks around Joe, a man they both still care deeply for. The real downward spiral begins when Danny comes home, with wife and new baby, to find himself obsolete. Nick has taken over his room, his father's respect and his mother's love.

Danny's obviously Oedipal leanings add fire to his hatred, and his eventual suspicion that Nick is stealing his wife as well are enough to push him over the edge.

The script and the direction are nothing special; if anything, blunt foreshadowing and drawn-out personal reflections captured on film make otherwise eloquent moments seem trite and do not show due confidence in the magnificent acting.

These characters are almost painfully real and as Alonso said in an interview, "audiences will understand why they do what they do, even if they [the audience] don't accept it." Shot on location in Jersey City, Caught positively drips with atmosphere -- it is a pity that the atmosphere is almost completely destroyed by one of the worst soundtracks put to film. (Think early-'80s porno mixed with late-night TV action show.)

Olmos builds Joe into a man who "has made the most with what life dealt him," though life didn't deal him much. Normally we would wonder that Joe is so unsuspecting of Betty and Nick's affair; we only feel sorry that he is in the situation he is.

Alonso's Betty exudes sex appeal at every turn, even while wearing rubber gloves, up to her elbows in raw fish. She need only squint her eyes or clench her jaw for a complete change in emotion.

Verveen's Nick is a more inconsistent performance, which is understandable considering his inexperience. He auditioned without an agent or resumé; it turned out that he had learned of the role while working as a janitor at the elite New York Actors' Studio. Though aspects of his portrayal are off-putting -- his Irish accent is sketchy and some lines are too young-Marlon Brando-esque for words -- Verveen is a loafer we can love, and we understand the changes he evokes in Joe and Betty.

The most masterful and disgusting performance is Steven Schub's Danny. One despises Danny from his first appearance, bragging of false fame. Odd from the start, Danny's dementia escalates with his jealously of Nick. Scenes between Schub and Alonso are painfully believable and all the more disturbing for it.

While I cannot say that I liked Caught , I was impressed and drawn in by it. Watching the movie was like eating Sour Patch Kids; I couldn't tear myself away despite the bad taste in my mouth.

I have to respect the guts it took to make this film; to quote Bob Young, "the great thing about making an independent film is that we're totally free." I also enjoyed the acting; I found myself caring about what would happen to all the characters, despite their sins. Caught opens with the image of fish caught in a net and the voice-over line, "Amazing the way you get into things ... "

It will amaze you how you will get into Caught despite yourself.

This item appeared in the Arts & Entertainment section of the November 1, 1996 issue.

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