Tough, energetic and violent, THE ART OF DYING is an above-average urban cop yarn set in the sleazy underworld of downtown Los Angeles.
Plainclothes vice detective Jack (Wings Hauser) has been working for 15 years rescuing teenage runaways from drugs, pornographers and pimps. Working with his cop cohorts Sarah (Sarah Douglas) and Delbert (Michael J. Pollard), Jack's been turning up a series of corpses with traces of stage makeup.
The bodies are the result of mad moviemaker Roscoe (Gary Werntz), who with the help of procurer Latin Jerry (Mitch Hara) has been killing and filming the deaths of shanghaied-from-the-streets "actors" and "actresses" in inventive ways: Russian roulette (a la THE DEER HUNTER), shower stabbing (a la
PSYCHO), hanging, garrotting, and chainsaw invisceration, for a film to be called--what else?--"The Art of Dying." Jack, meanwhile, is stymied in his no-last-names, six-months-long sexual relationship with Holly (Kathleen Kinmont).
The cops eventually close in, and Latin Jerry is accidentally killed after being chased by Jack. "Artistically" stuck for the penultimate scene of his film, Roscoe kidnaps Holly and aims to film both her being burned alive and Jack being forced to watch it, a plan Jack foils. He disgustedly kicks
Roscoe off the roof of the Hollywood Theatre, in which he's been filming, and he lands on Valentino's star on Hollywood Boulevard. The fadeout finds Jack and Holly, who turns out to be a cop as well, ready to pursue a more stable and honest relationship.
Wings Hauser is an underrated actor who moved from a popular stint on TV's "The Young and the Restless" to starring in B action films, like VICE SQUAD and MUTANT, and is now directing them. Hauser knows the genre inside out and with this, his second outing as director, he displays an excellent,
often inventive eye for the camera.
Working from a tart-tongued screenplay by Joseph Merhi, Hauser admirably captures the suffocatingly sleazy milieu of after-dark Hollywood: street hustlers, perverts and druggies; massage and sex parlors; 900 number sex dens (one guy, telephone tucked on shoulder, has an "orgasm" while reading a
newspaper); sidewalk Jesus freaks and bus station pimps preying on runaway wannabee-actor teens. Hauser has some trouble integrating Jack's fling with Holly into the narrative--her sexual kinkiness disturbs him, reminding him of the milieu in which he works--and he relies on highly improbable
"coincidences" to advance the plot at two crucial points (Jack stumbling into Latin Jerry; Roscoe's dumb film-premiere handbill leading Jack to the Hollywood Theatre). His work as actor and director is still admirable. He upends a genre cliche or two and delivers the requisite violence and sex
with some style.
While veteran Lassick is wasted on a single esoteric scene and Douglas's role is underwritten, if not superfluous, Pollard and Kinmont are both quite good. Werntz makes a wonderfully slimy villain, hugging his camera and weeping at the "purity" of the "performance" of the youth he has just filmed
dying, and Holly's off-the-cuff remark that she appeared in a high school production of Joan of Arc sends him spinning in inspiration for the last scene of his grisly epic. Ranking himself above "DePalma, Scorsese and Hitchcock" in onscreen verisimilitude, Werntz is a filthy parody of the
independent filmmaker who believes in his "art" and not the bucks he can make selling it.
Given its likely budget, THE ART OF DYING is technically excellent, with proficient night-for-night cinematography by Richard Pepin, a solid jazz score by John Gonzalez, and slambang stunts by Cole McKay. (Violence, profanity, sexual situations, nudity.)
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- Released: 1991
- Rating: R
- Review: Tough, energetic and violent, THE ART OF DYING is an above-average urban cop yarn set in the sleazy underworld of downtown Los Angeles. Plainclothes vice detective Jack (Wings Hauser) has been working for 15 years rescuing teenage runaways from drugs, po… (more)