George Moran (Peter Weller) was a paratrooper who helped in the invasion of the Dominican Republic by the United States, but these days seeks a quieter life running a slightly rundown but well-placed hotel in Miami. Today he is cleaning the pool when he notices what he takes for the wife of one of his guests on the balcony, and he strikes up a conversation she is reluctant to engage in, believing him to be the pool boy and therefore beneath one with powerful connections like her... brother, not her husband. Then Moran notices a new guest has arrived, Nolen Tyner (Frederic Forrest) who gets off to an antagonistic start with him until they realise they were in the same invasion, as shown by their tattoos. But George is going to get in over his head back in South America...
Legend has it that in director Abel Ferrara's possession there is a version of Cat Chaser which lasts for over two-and-a-half hours, and he occasionally whips it out to show selected audiences, which may explain why the version more commonly shown came across as having vital bits of plot missing. This is not a film with a healthy history, as it was produced at a time when its parent company Vestron, once one of the more recognisable of eighties second division studios such as Cannon, was heading for bankruptcy and to make matters worse, rather than assist Ferrara in getting his material into shape it was taken out of his hands, a pointless narration added then offered limited releases around the world until in its native United States it was consigned to straight to video hell.
And even so, in a shorter version with the two most memorable scenes cut out - though not memorable for necessarily good reasons. Leading lady Kelly McGillis was fairly vocal about having a rotten time on this film, and the sequence where she is forced to strip then violated with a pistol, while not explicit in the final cut was enough to make you wonder about the attitude to women being displayed. Or at least it was until you saw two male characters similarly humiliated made to strip together whereupon they are shot in uneasily convincing screen violence, so Ferrara was an equal opportunities embarrasser. Mind you, this was one of his work for hire jobs, and he was actually bringing a script co-written by Elmore Leonard to life, drawn from one of the great thriller scribe's novels.
Though don't go looking for an explanation of the title here: at no point are any cats chased, and Moran doesn't have a part time job rounding up strays, so presumably it is a symbolic name. That said, Cat Herder might have been a better name since actually working out what was supposed to be going on was more trouble than it was worth as bits of plot intruded, others were not picked up, and some simply dropped without explanation. It was something to do with one of the Domincan Republic's old generals (Tomas Milian) who is married to McGillis's Mary DeBoya, a trophy wife if ever there was one though she is more keen on getting together with Moran, hence within about thirty seconds of them meeting they are naked and indulging in the pleasures of the flesh with one another.
Then the entire next scene with them is played with Weller's hand clamped to McGillis's left breast, which can't have been an easy scene to play for her, but if it was acting you wanted, the real scene stealer was Charles Durning. He was Jiggs Scully, the other bad guy, sort of a sleazier version of the rotund villains you would get in many a forties film noir, handy with a pistol (plus silencer) and with his heart set on grabbing the General's fortune in banknotes if only he could discover their whereabouts. He believes Moran and Mary can help him, but further than that it's difficult to see why he would want them around at all, other than to get one over on them as rivals for the loot. Forrest's character barely needed to be there at all for all the use he is, leaving the sense of a film hopelessly lost in the editing, capturing a pleasingly sunbaked atmosphere of danger, but suggesting a better experience was lost along the way from script to eventual screen. Fans of the actors might get something out of it, whereas fans of Ferrara and Leonard will ruefully ponder what might have been. Music by Chick Corea.
1990's King of New York was a return to form, while the searing Bad Lieutenant quickly became the most notorious, and perhaps best, film of Ferrara's career. The nineties proved to be the director's busiest decade, as he dabbled in intense psycho-drama (Dangerous Game, The Blackout), gangster movies (The Funeral), sci-fi (Body Snatchers, New Rose Hotel) and horror (The Addiction). He continued to turn in little-seen but interesting work, such as the urban drug drama 'R Xmas and the religious allegory Mary until his higher profile returned with the likes of Welcome to New York and Pasolini.